If a public meeting falls in the city and no one is there to hear it, is it still a public meeting?

Last Monday, the New York City Broadband Advisory Committee gathered to hear testimony from the Department of Education’s new Chief Information Officer, Ted Brodheim. Mr. Brodheim is highly regarded, having previously worked on Wall Street at JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley.

His testimony was very interesting. He discussed the potential for web-based tools to return collaboration to the learning process now that the NYC public schools are no longer neighborhood-based. But the DOE is not implementing any such projects because they cannot do so equitably, given students’ varying levels of access to the Internet. He also very clearly said that “market forces will not address this [inequity] on their own.”

Unfortunately, even though the meetings of the NYC BAC are open to the public, there was no way you could have known about it beforehand so there was no way the public could have actually attended. In other words, the meeting wasn’t public at all.

There was no public announcement of the meeting. Nothing on their official website. No “E-Update for the Committee on Technology in Government of the New York City Council.”

I have no idea how many other of these non-public meetings the Committee has held. I only found out about it through happenstance at the last minute. (I took extensive notes, which you can read at the Digital Expansion website.)

For the Broadband Advisory Committee to hold de facto private meetings is both shameful and counterproductive. The so-called public hearings – held during the day on work days and publicized primarily through email – have not been much better, as Antwuan Wallace pointed out at the Brooklyn hearing.

When I testified before the Committee, I emphasized the need for an open and participatory process. They are clearly failing in that regard, but they are losing more than just the full range of perspectives. They are sacrificing perhaps their best chance at having their recommendations taken seriously and acted upon.

The final part of last week’s meeting was an unfocused discussion about the Committee’s purpose and what form their final report should take. It seems apparent that no one is steering the ship.

From what I can tell, the reason they did not issue any public announcement about the meeting is not out of malice or sneakiness. It seems to be because no one is tasked with keeping the public informed. I’m sure it’s all they can do to keep the members informed about when and where the meetings will be.

I’ll write more soon about what might come out of this process, but right now they are working from a position of weakness.

One other note: I learned at the meeting that Bruce Lai, currently Council Member Gale Brewer’s Chief of Staff, is leaving his position to work for Mr. Brodheim at DOE. That’s a loss for proponents of universal affordable broadband, but a gain for the children of New York City.

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2 Comments

  1. DeAnne said

    This is so typical. When will the back room meetings stop?

  2. […] online. This is another instance of a supposedly “public” meeting falling in the city where no one can hear it. Just because you don’t lock the doors doesn’t make the meeting […]

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