Petition asks Hobbs City Commission to begin webcasting

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City Hall in Hobbs, N.M.

Courtesy photo

City Hall in Hobbs, N.M.

Several dozen Hobbs residents have signed a petition asking their City Commission to begin webcasting and televising its meetings to increase access.

The petition drive began last week, even as some city officials said almost no one has shared with them a desire for webcasting.

“I don’t see the real big concern from anybody else other than two people, and I’ve not received any other calls about broadcasting this,” Commissioner Marshall Newman said at a meeting a week ago.

“I’m just saying because I go with public input,” Newman said. “I’m real serious about that, if somebody’s got a question or whatever. And there’s only two people that have brought this up. I’m just saying.”

He was speaking to Hobbs resident Byron Marshall, one of two citizens who began the push for webcasting, during a sometimes contentious exchange at last Monday’s commission meeting.

In addition to the dozens of people who have signed the petition, NMPolitics.net quoted several Hobbs residents earlier this month who want the city to begin webcasting.

Staci Barcuch wrote, when she signed the petition, that she is part of a growing trend of people who don’t participate in government because they don’t believe their votes matter. Webcasting could change that.

“The City of Hobbs has a great opportunity to open up government to its people for generations to come,” she wrote. “What a wonderful way to cultivate relationships for potential leadership moving forward!”

Hobbs is behind the curve when it comes to webcasting. The state’s largest cities — Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Rio Rancho and Santa Fe — all webcast and archive meetings of their governing boards, as do many smaller towns including Las VegasSilver City and Socorro.

Hobbs recently started broadcasting commission meetings on a local radio station. That’s helpful for people who can listen live but not those who are busy with jobs, families or other activities. Archiving audio and video online lets people watch and listen when they can find time.

Manager will report by end of year

Hobbs commissioners have asked City Manager J.J. Murphy to report back to them by the end of the year on options for webcasting and/or televising meetings. Murphy told the commission last week that he and IT staff are working to determine how to move forward in a way that’s cost-efficient and reaches the greatest number of citizens.

Marshall complained about the timeline, saying he determined through a few phone calls and emails to other cities how to get it done.

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“It’s taking you guys to the end of the year to get something I got in an hour and a half conversation,” he said at the meeting.

When Newman said he’d received only two phone calls about webcasting — one of them from Marshall — the webcasting advocate asked how many people called for a $2.5 million system that includes cameras at intersections, in parks, in public buildings and elsewhere. He has frequently contrasted the police surveillance system with the lack of cameras in commission meetings.

“Well I think there’s a lot of calls, Mr. Marshall, about safety in the community,” Commissioner Jonathan Sena countered.

Marshall began to speak about the difference he sees between “safety in general” and the surveillance system. But Sena pointed out that Marshall had run over his allotted three minutes to speak during the public input section of the meeting.

“I appreciate you coming in,” Sena said. “I think we’re past the three-minute point and I think it’s gotten a bit repetitive. But we are hearing you out, and we appreciate your time, sir.”

Commission will ‘drive the timeline’

Marshall laughed when Sena moved to cut off the discussion. Mayor Sam Cobb told Marshall the commission would “drive the timeline” for implementing webcasting.

Marshall responded by saying it seemed like the commission doesn’t want transparency.

“You’re willing to hold people accountable within your community with a surveillance and command system but you don’t want people watching you do the business of the community. That’s how I see it,” Marshall said.

“I’m getting so much pushback for something that everybody else in the State of New Mexico has been doing for decades,” Marshall continued. “And you guys don’t want to do it. Why? What’s the reason?”

Cobb joined Commissioner Newman in sounding uncertain about whether officials will implement webcasting. The mayor responded to Byron Marshall by saying commissioners would move forward “as fast as we can” if they believe their constituents want webcasting.

“Right now we have not seen that the people want that other than some isolated instances,” Cobb said.

At the end of the meeting, after Marshall had left, Commissioner Crystal Mullins said she appreciated his “diligence on wanting to get televised meetings.”

“I also want televised meetings. I’m not opposed to it at all,” Mullins said. “But it takes time. … It’s something that goes through the process just like anything else.”

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