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Norton Council OKs live streaming for meeting broadcasts

1/31/2013 - West Side Leader
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By John Benson

Live streaming over the Internet was the decision made by Norton City Council Jan. 28 to comply with the recently passed charter amendment requiring all Council meetings, work sessions and workshops be televised.

The motion came after Law Director Peter Kostoff gave the governing body his interpretation of the charter amendment, which didn’t include language explicitly defining televised as meaning via cable or the web.

“Hopefully, this will allow you to make your own independent determination,” Kostoff said. “It’s ultimately in your purview to decide how you wish to implement the people’s will. On its face, it imposes requirements that: all Council meetings and workshops must be televised in its entirety without editing; all must be broadcast twice weekly; and that copies of each recorded meeting must be made available at a minimum cost.

“Given this lack of definition, the city has broad discretion to comply,” he said. “Whatever method the City Council determines to implement, it doesn’t require the city of Norton to broadcast meetings on Time Warner Cable or be capable of reaching 100 percent of the city.”

Norton City Council President Don Nicolard (Ward 2) opened the floor for discussion. He said he believed live streaming satisfies the charter amendment and that in his opinion he’d like to instruct the administration to go forward.

Councilwoman Charlotte Whipkey (at large) said she received a phone call from a Youngstown public TV station about showing meetings for free using live streaming.

“I realize we’re under timelines, but why enter into a contract with a nominal fee when we could have this done for next to nothing,” Whipkey said.

Michelle Baker, who was a part of the ad hoc committee that studied the issue, said the cost of live streaming included a $1,200 start-up fee and monthly bills from $200 to $500, depending on how many hours were broadcast.

Councilman Bill Mowery (Ward 3) said the figures for Time Warner Cable to broadcast the city’s meetings were in the $40,000 range.

“It seems like we get more bang for our buck if we stream live,” Nicolard said. “We are up against the wall on a timeframe. I would really like to put this to bed tonight.”

Councilman Scott Pelot (at large) added, “If we direct the administration which way to go, we don’t have to say which service. It’s up to them to find the most cost effective.”

At that point, both Council members John Conklin (Ward 4) and Dennis McGlone (at large) said they favored live streaming.

Council OK’d the measure 6-0, with Council Vice President Todd Bergstrom (Ward 1) having an excused absence.

“I’m going along with this to meet the people’s will,” said Whipkey after the vote. “It’s not what I believe they wanted. It’s a start.”

Added Mowery, “At least we’re getting it out there.”

In other business, the contentious issue of sewers possibly being installed in the city and their cost was the popular topic during the communications from the public portion of the meeting.

In December, the city once again was informed by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of a number of discharging and/or failing septic systems that were contributing to bacteria in the Wolf Creek watershed.

The city also received a letter Jan. 7 from Summit County Public Health stating the agency is considering declaring a public health nuisance in a portion of the Nash Heights neighborhood and on Brookside Court. A public hearing on the matter took place Jan. 22.

“I’ve asked several times and I’ll ask again — let’s just release a bit of financial information like a balance sheet with credits and debits,” said Norton resident Tom Kornas. “So it just breaks it down so we can see what’s going on.”

Finance Director Laura Starosta said she would compile such a list but warned it would take a while.

Kornas also suggested creating a task force to look into grant monies and endowments to help residents fund the sewer assessments.

Resident Dennis Kornacki said he believed Norton’s noncompliance with the EPA stems from the city’s ditches and catch basins not being cleaned out.

Residents Paul Tousley and Dennis Pierson said their information showed the EPA’s claim that 70 percent of Norton’s septic systems were failing was incorrect. Tousley said the figure he heard from Summit County officials was 13 percent.

“I would imagine that if the EPA [heard] 13 percent of outfalls were failing, their reaction would be different,” Tousley said. “Has anybody thought about going back to the EPA?”

The last resident speaker was Jason Sams, who said City Council needs to take an approach to “educate, train and collaborate” with the residents.

“I agree with having an ad hoc committee,” Sams said. “I also think department heads should give an annual report. All the people want to know is the truth. It’s very easy to talk about problems. It takes a better person to come up with a solution.”

In other news, Council passed an ordinance to authorize nominal expenditures for refreshments or meals to be served at various events. Pelot described it as being boilerplate, while Kostoff said it puts the city in compliance with the State Auditor’s Office.

The next Council meeting is set for Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. in Council Chambers at the Safety-Administration Building, 4060 Columbia Woods Drive.

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