By Steve Harrison, The Charlotte Observer
Charlotte City Council has resumed broadcasting the part of its meetings where citizens address them on any topic. Council members turned off the TV cameras last year after speakers hurled insults and obscenities at them during protests over the Keith Scott shooting and immigration.
The decision to televise the citizen’s forum was made quickly Monday night.
But a secondary debate on livestreaming council meetings over social media became heated as older, veteran council members expressed concerns about whether the city should disable comments during livestreams.
The younger group of council members, many elected for the first time in November, pushed for the city to stream the meetings and allow the public to give feedback online.
“This isn’t as simple as people make it out to be,” said Republican Ed Driggs, who is serving his third term. Driggs is worried about people saying things online that are inflammatory or untrue. “I’m in favor of transparency, but we run the risk of having a shouting mach on social media.”
The council has veered back and forth on how to share its meetings with the public.
Roughly a year ago, council members said they would no longer broadcast the citizen’s forum. That prompted criticism from many activists, including Braxton Winston, who was elected for the first time to council as a Democrat in November.
But in December, city staff began broadcasting meetings on Facebook Live. People were allowed to comment.
That alarmed some council members, who wanted to discuss the issue at their upcoming retreat in Durham later this month. But Winston and other newly elected members pushed for a resolution Monday.
“These are platforms we have already been using,” Winston said of Facebook Live, Instagram and Periscope.
Council members voted 8-3 in favor of livestreaming the meetings and allowing people to comment.
The council’s newest members – Democrats Winston, Larken Eggleston, Matt Newton, Justin Harlow and Republican Tariq Bokhari – voted in favor of having livestreams with comments. Democrats Julie Eiselt and James Mitchell joined them.
Democrats LaWana Mayfield, Greg Phipps and Republican Driggs voted no.
Council members agreed that they would not engage with the public as they comment during meetings.
Last year, when council members decided to turn off the TV cameras, they believed that broadcasting the citizen’s forum was encouraging people to act out. The city continued to broadcast the regular part of their meetings.