Suffolk lawmakers narrowly vote to televise meetings

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Suffolk legislative meetings in Hauppauge will be televised for the first time after lawmakers Tuesday night passed a motion allowing a camera in their meeting room.

The procedural motion, which was not on the agenda, narrowly passed, 10-8, over objections that the cameras would change the dynamic in the legislature and lead to playing for the camera.

Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), who sponsored the motion, said the camera will increase transparency. He said a canvass of the state found Suffolk the largest county that did not televise its meetings.

"It will keep us held accountable," he said.

The operation would be similar to one in place in Nassau County. Suffolk currently broadcasts audio of its meetings on the Web.

September's general meeting from Hauppauge will be televised. It will cost $28,120 in initial equipment, plus a $990-a-month fee to broadcast the meeting live on the Internet. A person with a joystick will operate a camera in the back of the room, said Cary Flack, office systems analyst for the legislature. No committee meetings will be broadcast, nor will general meetings in Riverhead.

Opponents raised objections about the cost and how it might change the atmosphere in the legislature.

"You're going to completely change the dynamic of how this chamber operates," said Legis. Lou D'Amaro (D-North Babylon). "A certain amount of publicity like that forces people to play to camera, rather than doing best job you can."

The vote came at the 12th hour of the legislature, when jackets were slung on the back of chairs and more than one lawmaker looked rumpled at the Horseshoe, as the single long desk where the 18 lawmakers sit is called.

"This is where we do let our defenses down, our collars are open," Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport) said. He voted no.

Legis. Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), a veteran of televised town board meetings in Southold, admonished his colleagues: "You are not camera ready. You have to sit up straight. Have your jacket on." He, too, voted no because of the cost.

Legis. Thomas F. Barraga (R-West Islip), who also opposed the measure, who said the cost could grow and would be difficult to stop. Plus, he said, without rules in place on where the camera would focus, it gave too much power to the operator. Flack said a county employee already on staff would operate the camera.

Legis. Sarah S. Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said it was an embarrassment that Suffolk still didn't televise meetings.

In Brookhaven, town meetings are one of the more popular shows, she said. "It's a form of transparency," she said.

After the measure passed, Gregory said, "I promise, we won't have to hire a makeup artist for anyone."

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