NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- The City of New Rochelle spent a good deal of money for a design firm in Nashville to come up with a new branding image for New Rochelle.
With the branding project complete, I am again raising an issue I have raised many time before. The set up for City Council Meetings, especially for media coverage is absolutely awful. Everyone in City Hall knows this. No one disputes it. And yet it never changes. With budget season soon upon us, the time has come for this to change both in the City Council Chambers and the City Council conference room next door.
Let’s start with the basics.
The lighting and audio is terrible, especially in the City Council Chambers. The A/V crew does what they can with portable lights but it ought to be obvious that using portable lighting at every meeting ought to mean getting permanent "studio lighting" in the council chamber is going to save money. The conference room has its own issues but as a “TV studio" it's not as horrible and therefore not the same priority but it does look like the meetings are being held in the day room at a state prison.
A rather obvious fix in the conference room is more for those attending the meetings in person — replace the antiquated low-res 480p TV monitors. The only audio provided comes from these outdated TV sets. Replace the current monitors with HDTV (even though the cameras are not currently HD) and set up a separate audio system. It's a large expense but broadcasting in HDTV ought to be on the radar as well.
TV monitors with a quality audio system in the Council Chamber is also needed. I would recommend TV monitors facing out towards the audience and, if possible, one facing the council members so everyone can monitor the TV production in real time. The priority is the TV monitors for the audience because those can be switched on during meetings in the conference room to handle overflow crowds. In fact, I think most people would prefer to gather in the City Council chamber to watch the meetings next door where they can discuss what is occuring without distrubing the council meeting.
To the branding, if you look at any media coverage of city council meetings in the chamber - CBTH speakers, award ceremonies, public hearings, formal presentations/speeches what do you see? What does the media capture? What goes online? Into social media? Into print or broadcast coverage? Tacky brown wood paneling.
Absolutely no thought has been given to how awful this looks — in addition to outdated wood paneling, what viewers see is a small New Rochelle centennial banner from 1999 taped to the wall and light switches. As a "studio" the production values are more like Wayne’s parent’s basement in Wayne’s World and not the 7th largest City in New York State.
Then there is the matter of the sign up table. While this might be convenient for the clerk it means that people are constantly walking behind the speaker while they are speaking. The same with placing stenographers there during hearings. This has to be addressed.
It would appear obvious that the sign up cards should be at the table outside the council chambers where a runner can move the cards back and forth during the meeting. Pay someone $15 an hour to pick up the cards, bring them through the conference room and then hand them to the clerk from “back stage” rather than have the constant distraction of people milling about behind the speakers. If you don't want to pay someone to do that, then at least have the sign up cards in the conference room, place a small table near the door leading out to the City Council Chambers where residents can place the cards where the Clerk can see the from his seat on the dais The Mayor often tells people to sit in the front row near the podium to be more efficient when there are a large number of speakers — then why not mark of that front row as “reserved for speakers only”? Take these steps and any other to clean up this messy part of the visuals of the meeting.
What we have now is absolute amateur hour which reflects poorly on the City and the City Council all while missing the #1 branding opportunity available to New Rochelle -- your meetings on TV.
So let's get to that, the real point of this Open Letter.
Anyone who has watched a press conference on TV knows that a TV/Media Backdrop is standard for branding any event, ensuring that any media coverage will display the logo, tag line and web address of the organization holding the media event.
At the very least, the City should buy one for the City Council Chambers and for the B-1 Beaufort meeting room as this would get almost all public meetings branded using the backdrop. I would suggest considering how to do that in the conference room as well but the first two are an obvious must.
The TV/Media Backdrop in council chamber might be a full up "pop up" TV/Media Backdrop because it would allow portable use on site at certain events and press conferences like those on front steps of City Hall, in a public park, etc.
Again, as the media person who covers more of these events than anyone, I have been raising this issue for years. Everyone agrees these types of improvements need to be made yet nothing ever happens. While this may be such a low priority item that it never makes the cut during budget time, it seems absurd to spend so much time and effort to develop a branding concept for New Rochelle and then not use the many hours of TV coverage of City Council meetings and other City meetings to promote that brand.
No more excuses. The time has come.