The lights and cameras were on, but there was little action at the first televised Beverly Hills City Council study session this week.
The liveliness, spontaneity, name-calling and finger-pointing that often went on at these public meetings when they were held in a City Hall back room was missing.
The council members at Tuesday's study session sat around the same rectangular wooden table, but in the larger council chamber under hot portable television lights, they were polite and well-behaved.
Perhaps the most glaring departure from past meetings was the absence of fruit and cookies, something noted by Councilman Maxwell Salter, who was the lone opponent to televising the sessions.
"I guess people eating on television is not good," Salter said.
The council decided last week to broadcast its study sessions live over the city's government cable channel, arguing that much of the important work is done at these weekly meetings rather than at the bimonthly council meetings, which are also televised.
They acknowledged at that time that some of the spark might be lost by televising the sessions, but that the public's right to know outweighed those concerns.
"It is not as relaxing as being able to sit back and have side conversations," Councilwoman Charlotte Spadaro said a day after the meeting. "It is more relaxing knowing that every movement was not being watched. But as a citizen, I would like to see my elected officials."
Spadaro acknowledged that the cameras and lights were somewhat inhibiting.
"We were a little bit more formal," she said. "There might have been some occasions when I might have said more if it was not televised.
"There is a lot less throwing ideas around. As a participant, I don't like it that much, but as a resident, I would like to see what my elected officials are doing."
Spadaro also said she found that being on camera for three hours in the afternoon session and then another four hours at the night meeting was draining.
"That's a lot of hours of being on television," she said.
Salter didn't say 'I told you so,' but he said he still does not like the idea of televising the study sessions.
"My view hasn't changed," he said. "If you really want to go forward with ideas and freshness . . . you can't get that with the television cameras on you. Nobody wants to appear foolish. But you have to be able to do that if you want to have (fresh) ideas."
Beverly Hills Mayor Benjamin H. Stansbury said he thought the first meeting went well.
"This was a little more formal than most . . . but I think that in our next meeting we will be more relaxed," he said.
Little Preparation Time
City spokesman Fred Cunningham said that from a technical point, things also went well, particularly since city staffers had only one week to prepare.
He said some changes will be made. For example, seating for the audience will be rearranged to bring it closer to the table.
Spadaro complained that her back was to the audience and to staff members who gave reports. Cunningham said the table may be moved so that City Manager Edward Kreins' back would be to the audience.
Cunningham said there is no way to accurately determine how many viewers tuned into to watch what some council members have jokingly called "Tuesday Afternoon Live," except by residents who might call City Hall to express their views. The meeting was aired on cable Channel 25.