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OPEN LETTER TO CITY COUNCIL: The Production Value of Your Meetings is Awful

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OPEN LETTER TO CITY COUNCIL: The Production Value of Your Meetings is Awful

October 25, 2015 - 18:02
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New Rochelle City Council Chambers or Wayne's Parent's Basement?

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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 The only audio provided comes from these outdated TV sets.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.

TV/Media Backdrops

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.

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Children, New Rochelle Citizens should be seen and not Heard!

You are absolutely correct,

But it is more than the AV/Audio Visual end of things that need fixing. However, they like having the convenient excuse of poor city systems to blame poor communication on. Many kids today have a better tech set up in their bedrooms, I am sure. That’s an idea; make Council Chambers into a man-cave maybe that will motivate them.

All the IT, Audio and many other systems in this city need a makeover. Just like our Downtown Development we are far behind the other municipalities that surround us. But the other cities around us seem to find a way to get it done and thrive. This is not something we can blame on the economy because there could have been bonds and grants out there to help with this process. They seem to find them at election time or when they work in their favor. How would that be for shared services if we update our system along with the New Rochelle School District. They need an overhaul just as much as New Rochelle’s City Hall and City Council do. At least we don’t have ceilings falling down just yet.

What we do have a is as I have said for years, Political dysfunction and a failure of a Weak Mayor and City Council to follow The City Charter and the 1996 Comprehensive Plan. Mayor Bramson tried to put his own spin on it to attack his challengers and some of the challengers in the other races here in New Rochelle for the upcoming election.

Some parts of his letter:

“New Rochelle has never had a better chance to bring vitality and energy to Main Street, and I am excited by our prospects.  But we’re not there yet, and without sustained effort and focus, the moment of opportunity will be squandered”.

(Mr. Mayor, without proper leadership that encourages conversation and debate this will never happen. You have been at this for 20 years along with some of your counter parts on City Council. Some new members have helped move towards change but now you want them to go away.)

“This is when responsible political leadership can do the most good.   When the Mayor and Council share a coherent big picture view, act efficiently and decisively, speak with a clear voice, and honor agreements, then we inspire confidence in New Rochelle and attract the investment we need.”

(Mr. Mayor, if you don’t follow the City Charter and Comprehensive Plan that encourages conversation and debate this will never happen. You can’t blame past administration for this as you have held the reigns for almost 20 years.)

“The reverse is also true.  This is when political dysfunction can do the most harm.  When the Mayor and Council are badly divided, lack vision, waste time on petty conflict, or abandon commitments lightly, then confidence in New Rochelle collapses, and investment is scared away by the perception of elevated risk”.

(Mr. Mayor, You created this monster and it has been the other members of City Council pulling together and standing up for the citizens of New Rochelle that has allowed change. Not your leadership but theirs. It has been your vision and not that of the citizens for the last 20 years that has held us back. When they try to speak you put up new challengers for election and write letters like this. You are a good speech writer but we don’t need writers, we need leaders for the people.)

“Political dysfunction has other costs, too.  It produces paralysis or confusion for our professional staff who are forced to respond to conflicting direction, for higher levels of government that are forced to work through multiple points of contact, and for the public as a whole that rightly expects someone to be in charge”.

(Again Mr. Mayor with your full-time salary, office and staff right next to The City Manager you have more access and medaling powers that anyone on City Council. Follow the City Charter and be a weak Mayor as you should be and let the City Hall Staff do their jobs. Maybe we can keep them longer.)

 

“The potential for political dysfunction is exacerbated here in New Rochelle by our system of government, in which the Mayor (and I don’t mean me personally – I mean any Mayor) has no formal authority beyond a single vote on the Council.  Think about that for a moment . . . the only elected official who represents the entire community and who is directly accountable to all residents for the City’s performance has precisely the same power as a Council Member who represents only one-sixth of New Rochelle and whose outlook may, simply by virtue of position, be more narrowly-focused.”

(Sounds like a push for a Strong Mayor, but a speech writer that lacks leadership could never run this city. Let City Manager Strome and his Staff do their jobs as they have been hired to do under the City Charter. Also all the great work you and some of your counter parts claim credit for has not been done by any of you. It was done by City Manager Strome and his Staff.)

“Can this kind of political dysfunction be avoided in our system of government?  Fortunately, yes.  But only through collaboration between a Mayor and Council majority who work together constructively to achieve big goals.  New Rochelle needs teamwork to succeed.”

(This is the only part of his attack letter that is stated in the correct tone and direction which is not turned around to make things look different than they are.)

As Phil Reisman said in his piece, Official is fluent in bureaucrat-ese from March 19, 2012

  

“Somewhere there must be a school for government bureaucrats that features an advanced course on how to respond to questions at length and with gravitas, but also in such a way as to say absolutely nothing.”

 

http://www.lohud.com/article/20120320/COLUMNIST08/303200030/Official-fluent-bureaucrat-ese

Mayor Bramson has shown us how good he is at this. He could be a good leader for the future of New Rochelle, but like the systems at City Hall he must change his ways and get out and meet and talk to the real people of New Rochelle. Not his same cast of characters that will tell him what he wants to hear rather than what he needs to hear.  Just like Citizens to Be Heard Mr. Mayor and City Council, you have to listen to hear. Put on your Bob the Builder Hat, We can do this yes we can!

New Rochelle we need more than an upgrade of our technical systems at City Hall. I was going to say it at the last Citizens to be Heard but the Public Hearings ran very late and in the interest of time I did not speak. So here is what I was going to say. You make your own decisions and let City Council know how you feel by voting on November 3rd. If you are not being heard don’t walk away, speak louder.

 

Comments for October 13, 2015 Citizens to be heard:

Good evening Council I would like to speak about a few topics.

Public Hearing and Citizens to be Heard should be changed to Public Speaking and Citizens to be Spoken. Over the years there isn’t much hearing going on, just silence and contempt by those who represent us the taxpayers.

It’s time for change, you must step up and request a review of the CTBH process and make it a platform for input and review of what is said by the citizens. You must take the people that speak and the CTBH process seriously. It is our right to speak and your jobs to listen. With listening should also be response, the process must be changed.

As we go into the elections, voter question our high taxes and you do nothing. We/You council must look at the School District as they are 65-70% of our taxes and now look for a 50 Million dollar bond. We/you need to hold them accountable and get answers the citizens don’t. Request all Annual Visual Inspection Reports, Question why weren’t the AVI reports done and reviewed annually? I was OSHA certified and a Safety Coordinator while working for Coca Cola they are required. Question why nothing was done until a ceiling collapsed which could have been disastrous if children were hurt or killed. These are our/your tax dollars.

Subpoena those reports and ask questions as the citizens do but get no answers kind of like here at CTBH. Show the citizens, taxpayer and voters that you are willing to ask the tuff questions and require direct and accurate answers. As we move into the future of New Rochelle you must take control and inspect what you/we expect.

We need a Master Developer for City Hall and the School District!

Get out the Vote for November 3rd make your vote count and hold the current and future administration accountable for our city, our vision and our taxes.

“Common Sense for the Common Good”

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