Almanac

Viewpoint - April 6, 2011

Editorial: Atherton cops behind the camera

Atherton Mayor Jim Dobbie is reportedly not happy that he and fellow City Council members and other officials who attend city meetings are starring in YouTube videos produced by the police officers association.

The videotaping started a few weeks ago, and a straightforward announcement from the Atherton Police Officers Association explained that, since members are unable to attend all meetings, the videos "allow us to better understand and participate in the decisions made by the town."

Mayor Dobbie apparently had a different take, telling a local newspaper that he didn't think it was appropriate. He also said he thought some members of the public and the Finance Committee thought it was the association's way of telling town officials, "you better do what we want you to do."

Perhaps, but why would the mayor or any other city official feel threatened by someone simply videotaping a meeting, which is already public? In fact, city officials might want to thank the police officers for providing a service that is available as a matter of course in many other cities. Menlo Park has been taping and live webcasting its council meetings for years, which is a godsend for residents who may not be able to attend but want to keep up on the city's business.

It may be that the association is interested only in council discussion of police issues, which would mean many other meetings will proceed without a video camera running. We expect the city's dire budget situation, which could impact salary and benefits for police officers and raise the possibility of outsourcing, is one of the reasons the association wants to keep tabs on the council.

Maybe Mr. Dobbie and other council members will get a nudge from Bill Widmer, their recently elected colleague, who during his campaign pledged to bring more transparency to council meetings. Among the ideas he advanced are digitizing many public records and streaming video of council meetings on the Web. He also suggested that council meetings be shortened and held on two days if necessary.

These were good ideas during the campaign and are even better now, since the police officers have pushed the issue to the forefront. It would cost the city very little to stream the council meetings on the Web and it would give residents an easy way to view the meetings at home, work or any other venue that can receive a Wi-Fi signal.

Rather than view the present videotaping as threatening, the council should quickly move forward with its own taping system, which would move them out of the dark ages and onto the Web.

Comments

Posted by Gibberish, a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 5, 2011 at 3:25 pm

As long as you're mentioning campaign promises by Bill Widmer, let's not forget about the ad he ran in your paper promising a police oversight committee. What happened to that? Is he just pretending he didn't promise that now?

Dobbie has fumbled, no doubt, you've got that right, but Widmer must be held to his promises.

(Signed, someone who doesn't want to be taped at the meetings, but who thinks we need some control over police oversight - and hoping Mr. Widmer understands we exist).


Posted by PromulGate, a resident of another community
on Apr 5, 2011 at 5:13 pm

[Post removed. Same IP address using multiple pseudonyms.]


Posted by Thomas, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Apr 5, 2011 at 8:32 pm

I did not interpret Mr. Dobbie's statements about the APOA taping council meetings anything more than concern about possible intimidation rather than the suggestion by The Almanac that he was opposed to it out of any matters of privacy or avoidance to transparency.

I find it rather ironic that while the taping is not financially feasible by the town council, the APOA seems flush with cash to proceed with what I am assuming was a decision they made without consulting their employers or bosses. So much for the finance committee's decision to guarantee funding to the APD by another 10%.

I think The Almanac has it wrong. The issue about taping is not about coming out of "the dark ages" but rather a sense that the APD is trying to operate independently without first discussing it with the city manager or town council. While this article is an editorial by The Almanac, I did find it a bit unfair to Mr. Dobbie since he was never given an opportunity to respond to the "April 4th article..."Atherton Meetings in the You Tube Spotlight" and I detected some cynicism on the part of The Almanac by Mr. Dobbie's decision in speaking with another "local newspaper" in that April 4th posting as well as this editorial. While the articles on Atherton always generate a lot of interest on this forum,I certainly hope The Almanac does not feel Mr. Dobbie or anyone in the area they cover is obliged to report to them first.


Posted by lingering doubts, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 5, 2011 at 8:53 pm

Has anyone considered that those same members of the APOA who had the bad judgment to videotape City Council meetings carry weapons and are authorized to use them when they feel the need?

Things have gotten pretty scary in this town.


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