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City Council Considers Brodcasting B Sessions For Better Public Access

City of San Antonio

Most people who work are unable to make the trek to City Hall to watch city council in action for themselves.

That's why the council's main Thursday A sessions, where votes take place, can be seen on TVSA online or on certain cable providers, including Time Warner channel 21, Grande channel 20, and AT&T U-Verse channel 99.

But there is no broadcasting of the important B session meetings, held in a smaller room in the same building with no broadcasting equipment. Those meetings take place on Wednesdays and are briefings on important items before they go before a vote.

District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg said constituents and community leaders want to be involved, and he wants to provide a more transparent government for them. B sessions, he said, are relaxed meetings where council members can ask questions directly to staff before a vote takes place.

"The action really takes place at B session, where we get briefed and we get to ask questions directly to staff before there's the pressure of a vote," Nirenberg said. "So there's a lot to be learned about our community and the issues that we're facing through attending or watching a B session."

B sessions are held at 2 p.m. most Wednesdays. A sessions begin at 9 a.m. with zoning cases taken up at 2 p.m. on most Thursdays.

The time constraints make it a problem for working people and those who aren't close to downtown.

They (constituents) are very interested in hearing certain briefings, certain topics come up for council, and they want to hear it discussed and get the briefings themselves," said Nirenberg. "So there's a lot of interest in learning more about the particular policies that come before us."

The issue has been one city leaders have been working on for a while. The governance committee just voted to pursue a permanent solution in the smaller B session room and equip it with microphones and cameras.

An alternate option was recommended -- to move B sessions from the smaller room they take place in now to the main chambers. But Nirenberg said he likes the setup that's less rigid so that people feel more comfortable.

The cost of the option members of the governance committee liked will cost $139,000, but that money will come from franchise fees that cable providers pay the city, Nirenberg said. The committee chose that option over less expensive ones so that the microphones will better pick up relevant meeting conversation, instead of collecting white noise of things like papers shuffling and whispers, that will make the viewing experience better for people.

The full city council still needs to vote on making B sessions broadcast ready. But of course, citizens won't see the briefing on it unless they're there in person.

Ryan Loyd was Texas Public Radio's city beat and political reporter. He left the organization in December, 2014.