By Joe Ross
The City of Martinsville has joined the ranks of several other localities – including Henry and Patrick counties – and ceased televising public meetings or uploading the videos to YouTube after determining it was cost prohibitive to repair the antiquated equipment it used.
The system used by the city was from Adelphia, a cable company that was bought by Comcast/Time Warner in July, 2006, officials said. The equipment was free, and the council decided to use it to broadcast their meetings.
The county received the same offer from the then-cable giant, but declined, according to Henry County Administrator Tim Hall.
Although those discussions predated Hall’s tenure, he speculated the reasons the county declined were twofold: “You’d have to hire a staff to do it and there would be some cost to the locality, even if you got the equipment at a decent rate.”
The city provided the broadcasts as a public service as long as it was able to do so. The broadcasts ceased in late June/early July, when the system needed repairs/upgrades.
Virginia law does not require meetings to be televised. It only requires meetings are open to the public.
Previously, the city ordered other parts to see if that would help, but it did not. One part in particular, had an electrical short. If it was moved or even bumped slightly, it would stop working.
The repairs/upgrades needed is estimated to cost $100,000. City officials decided to not to use “band aid” money to buy 20-year-old equipment needed for repairs.
Lawson noted that City Manager Leon Towarnicki had said a professional firm quoted the cost, but it was not affordable. Officials also contacted a former city employee who is familiar with the system, and received some direction in terms of alternative options.
Assistant City Manager Eric Monday said the equipment the city had used was on its last leg.
While the council cannot go live as of now, the city can repeat public service announcements, which are saved on a DVD, Mayor Kathy Lawson said.
Danny Turner, a council member, said a part that costs $59 would be a quick and easy fix.
Most say the fix would be temporary at best, and that is providing the city can find the part Turner referenced.
City officials attempted using a social media option to livestream meetings, but the quality was poor. They are in the process of considering other alternatives that would allow the meetings to again be broadcast, but so far have not found one that fits.
“We are hoping to get this resolved without a lot of pain in the pocketbook,” Lawson said. “In contrary to some comments that I’ve read on social media, the city has been very transparent with our meeting and we hate this as much as the public does.”