Out of Session Vote has Dumfries Council Rethinking Public TV Broadcast Policy
By URIAH KISER
DUMFRIES, Va. — The honeymoon period may be over for newly elected members of the Dumfries Town Council not used being on TV for every public meeting.
There are two specific motions before the council during the governing body’s regular meeting on Tuesday. The first is revert back to holding two regular monthly meetings where issues are proposed, debated, and votes are taken. The other is to televise all council meetings on the town’s TV channel and website.
The motions come after the council last fall voted to make the second meeting of each month a work session that would not be televised. A majority of the council felt the need to still have a public meeting open to anyone, and keep accurate records, but to hold it without televising it.
The aim was to foster better communication between fellow council members, town staff, residents, and business owners. According to the policy set at the time, there would only be discussions of issues during work sessions and votes would only be taken during regular meetings when TV cameras were broadcasting.
Fast forward to a Feb. 19 work session when council members were reviewing plans for an improved intersection at U.S. 1 and Va. 234. Readying to view the plans with the land developer who will pay for the intersection improvements, as well as residents who packed the meeting hall to see the plans for the improved roadway, the council voted to change the policy on how many times a council member can comment on an item.
It was a move that affects members of the Town Council, as well as the public that, at times, can be subject to long-winded speeches during meetings by elected officials.
Now, after that motion was approved during the work session, Mayor Jerry Foreman said it’s time to go back to the way things were.
“Everything in politics is an experiment; we do something to see if it works…the council will do things to see if it works,” said Foreman. Maybe the right personalities and experience of the newly-elected council members wasn’t there before, and maybe that’s what led to the vote to not televise the work sessions, but this group has now has that experience.”
Foreman has been serving as Mayor since May. Also new to the council are Helen Reynolds and Derrick Wood. Charles Brewer was also voted back onto the council, and he brings with him eight years of previous experience on Dumfries’ Dias.
Wood, a chef and Marine who’s never held previous public office, said the discussion on these two items should be interesting.
“I spoke with the Mayor when he told me he was putting these items on the agenda. I’m looking forward to the discussion we’re going to have when they come up at the meeting,” said Wood.
Foreman admits he’s grown into the role of Mayor and says it takes any politician, whether it be a congressman, state senator, even a county supervisor, at least one year to learn public procedure, become comfortable in front of large audiences, and to learn to communicate effectively.
“One untelevised meeting a month is not going to make you a better politician. If you’re not communicating with the town staff, citizens, or the business owners, you’re not communicating well enough to do your job,” said Foreman.
The town’s public meetings are televised on a cable channel provided by Comcast – a service town tax payers continue to fund whether meetings are televised or not.