Friday, June 13, 2008

Cranford Chronicle 06/13/2008

Extra Meeting Broadcasts Take Toll on TV 35 Staff
Friday, June 13, 2008

CRANFORD - Earlier this year, in an effort to make local government more transparent to the public, the Township Committee decided to have meetings of the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Adjustment taped and broadcast on TV 35. But now, it seems the additional workload has created an unforeseen strain on the station's limited staff.

Station manager Ed Davenport told the committee that a variety of issues, from staffing shortages to technical obstacles, have sprung up since the station began taping and broadcasting the extra meetings.

Discussing the six land-use meetings that have been taped thus far, Davenport said only one has been taped from start to finish, because the meetings often extend late into the night and the cameras in the meeting room can only record for three hours at a stretch. That technical limitation, he told the Township Committee, has caused complaints from applicants who complained it was unfair to tape only some parts of the hearings.

In an attempt not to tax the station's staff -- Davenport and two of his assistants receive small stipends, while the other workers, many of them students, are volunteers -- Davenport has been taping the meetings on his own. That means he is responsible for moving the cameras, operating the control room and staying to the end of the meetings to shut down the camera equipment, which is linked to the meeting room's sound equipment.

"I just physically can't do it," he told the committee. The situation could become more challenging on June 23, when the Board of Adjustment continues its hearing on a proposed cell tower at the Cranford Swimming Club, he said. That controversial application has drawn large and vocal crowds.

Davenport did not explicitly ask the committee to reverse its policy of taping the land-use meetings, but the ensuing discussion did not appear to produce a solution to the problem.

Commissioner Mark Smith suggested that the committee hire professional videographers to record the meetings, but Deputy Mayor David Robinson objected.

"It's a great idea to show (the meetings) but it can't be at an additional cost," Robinson said.

Mayor Bob Puhak suggested a drive to recruit new volunteers specifically for those meetings. Davenport said that could help, but he added that all volunteers are required to go through the station's regular training process. Volunteers would also have to attain some level of expertise before being left in charge of the operation during a meeting, he said.

Offering another course of action, Smith proposed that the station cut back on other community shows, such as call-in programs, and shift its resources to the land-use meetings.

"If we don't have enough resources to tape the Planning Board and Zoning Board, which serves as a public record, then shouldn't we reallocate?" he asked.

But Davenport said that might not make much of a difference. The community programs, such as a health talk show featuring registered nutritionists or former Commissioner George McDonough's "Hear and Now," are scheduled at the convenience of the station, he said. By contrast, the land-use boards operate according to their own schedule.

Leslie Murray is a staff writer for The Chronicle. She can be reached at (732) 396-4205 or