Council to Open Up Back Room : Beverly Hills to Televise Study Sessions

November 29, 1987|JULIO MORAN | Times Staff Writer

Beverly Hills City Council study sessions--cozy weekly meetings that are often more revealing than council meetings--will be brought out of the back room and into the open this week when the city begins broadcasting them on the city government cable channel.

Taped replays of the Tuesday study sessions will be shown on Wednesdays at 2 p.m. and on Thursdays at 3:30 p.m. on Channel 25. Taped replays of the bimonthly council meetings will follow the showings of the study sessions.

Mayor Benjamin H. Stansbury proposed broadcasting the meetings--held in a council chamber back room and open to the public--at last week's study session. Councilman Robert K. Tanenbaum had been advocating the idea for months.

Only Councilman Maxwell Salter was against it, although Councilwomen Donna Ellman and Charlotte Spadaro both expressed regrets that some of the spontaneity and candidness of the intimate meetings would be lost by moving them into the larger council chamber under bright television lights.

'Best Thing to Do'

"There will be something lost," Spadaro said, "But, on balance, it is the best thing to do."

"I think it is totally wrong," Salter said. "There has to be a free give-and-take. From what I have seen . . . it's gotten to the point where people play to the television camera and not to the issues."

City Manager Ed Kreins said that televising the weekly study sessions will cost between $20,000 and $25,000 annually. The meetings are recorded on audio tape and minutes are kept by the city clerk.

The idea behind the weekly study sessions is to save time at the bimonthly council meetings, according to Fred Cunningham, a city spokesman. Council members receive staff reports on issues, and, though they cannot take formal action on proposed ordinances at these meetings, they generally give a good indication of the way they will be voting.

In recent months, discussion at these study sessions has often become emotional and personal, with name-calling, yelling and finger-pointing.

Calling Names

It was at a study session that Tanenbaum called Salter a "moral and intellectual cretin," and where in recent discussions over whether the city should pay Stansbury's air fare to go on a promotional trip to Finland that Stansbury and Spadaro have called each other liars.

"In many ways, what we do back here is more important than what we do at night meetings," Stansbury said in arguing for the televising of the study sessions.

"People have only been getting half the story" at council meetings, Ellman added.

The broadcasts aside, Tanenbaum said, the back room has become too small to seat the growing number of residents who attend the sessions. About a dozen metal folding chairs are set up for visitors.

Tanenbaum also said that knowing that every word, every facial expression will now be permanently captured on videotape during study sessions will make council members more careful about what they say in the future.

"It will make people sharper," he said. "People will be more concerned about what they're saying."

Salter could not be dissuaded.

"That is a pack of nonsense," he said.

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