Al Campbell - Use this One

Managing Editor Emeritus Al Campbell

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Yes, it’s me again. This time not for 31 years, but only until June when Managing Editor Erin Ledwon returns from maternity leave. Bear with this retiree, as he tries to make sense of the present Cape May County situation.

It’s been said there are two tragedies in life:

Not getting what you want.

Getting what you want. 

For several years, folks have badgered the Board of Chosen Freeholders to live-stream, or at least videotape their public meetings. The requests were met with emotions similar to, "Dad, can we get a dog?"

One chap brought a video camera to meetings to record the solemn occasions; after a while, he quit attending.

To say that the lensman put a chill up freeholders’ spines by sitting in the back row and visually recording what they said might be an understatement. There was an announcement at the start of a few such meetings to warn the scant public that their words and images were being recorded for posterity.

Advocates of the action to broadcast the meetings cite the number of voters in this vast county who never attend the twice-monthly meetings. They are free as the air we breathe, yet are avoided like a skunk's nest by the public.

Those sessions are held on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month. The first meeting of the month, a caucus (which means no public input, but the public can watch the machinations) starts at 5:30 p.m. The regular meeting, where action is taken and the public can comment, starts at 7 p.m. The second meeting of the month starts at 3 p.m., with a caucus meeting, and the regular meeting starts at 4:30 p.m.

Having faithfully attended those sessions until retirement, in September, gives me the latitude to share they are akin to watching paint dry or tidal flow.

At times, there was dissent on issues, but not many. A few times, when the public was whipped to a frenzy, the meeting room was filled to overflowing. Most of the time, those members of the public who faithfully attended were Lynn Shirk, from Sea Isle City, and Pete Gilson, from Woodbine, and this reporter.

Outside of us, department heads, summoned to attend when a point of discussion about their workers or projects, filled maybe 10 seats.

Then came the cry for democracy and letting the public view the goings-on of the five elected to oversee county government.

Fast forward the debate to a time when it came down to cost estimates.

Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton offered the prospect of having students from Cape May County Technical School record the meetings as part of their course of study in communication. That idea hit a brick wall.

Then came the idea of putting the service out to bid. As a late Stone Harbor councilman would have stated, “That’s the vagary of low bid.” In other words, cheap means trouble on the horizon, leave the check blank, but it’s the way this state runs, so proposals were sought.

At the Feb. 25 freeholder meeting, Freeholder E. Marie Hayes advised peers she had been asked about the status of videotaping the sessions. Yes, she was told, it will happen, probably later in 2020 because it's not as easy as switching on a video camera.

OK, we'll get a means for the voting public to watch five freeholders enact resolutions about accepting insurance payments for accidents and awarding contracts for paving and architectural work, and promoting employees.

Wait, there’s more, the price tag will be a bargain-basement price of about $38,000. Such a deal for so great a service. I would have thought $1,500 max for such a setup.

The contract will likely be awarded someday after the budget is adopted in early March when spending is permitted for this year. Broadcasting will begin later in the year.

How many will watch those meetings? Who knows? It’s what the public yearned to get, but I can’t imagine the Neilsen ratings for freeholders will bump the likes of “Jeopardy” or “Wheel of Fortune.”

For a Middle Township taxpayer who forked over $473.75 this year to support county government, it would take about 80 years to pay for the privilege of watching the freeholders in action. I doubt 50 will watch, but I've been wrong many times before this.

Why should anyone object? Other counties have taped meetings and ditched the idea since few watched them compared with the cost. Remember two of life’s tragedies:

Not getting what you want.

Getting what you want. 

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