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We Canít Keep Meeting Like This

A Week Without TV

By Betsey Culp

The only thing I ever saw that came close to Objective Journalism was a closed-circuit TV setup that watched shoplifters in the General Store at Woody Creek, Colorado. I always admired that machine, but I noticed that nobody paid any attention to it until one of those known, heavy, out-front shoplifters came into the place.

ó Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail

The fate of San Francisco is decided in meetings. Ask the general public to describe what goes on there, and youíll see faces glaze over. Yawn. But public meetings are the stuff that laws are made of, the arenas where highly civilized life-and-death battles are fought.

Last week, the city pulled the plug on the Police and Planning Commission. Yesterday Supervisors Chris Daly and Tom Ammiano asked that the TV cameras be turned back on, and indeed they might be. But last week, the proceedings were effectively blacked out. No time slots on Channel 26. No reruns. No streaming Video on Demand. School Board meetings are, of course, never televised, only broadcast over KALW (91.7 fm). Itís a one-time-only deal, with no replays later in the week. Itís a live performance, or nothing.

The government websites of this proudly hi-tech city are less than useless for up-to-date information. As of yesterday, the Planning Commission had posted minutes for meetings up to January 6. The Police Commission minutes stopped after October 6, 2004, and the Board of Education had nothing after August 10. (These offices are in good company: the Office of the Mayor has no postings for the mayorís scheduled appearances after the week of January 25, 2005, when he was in Davos.)

The blackout means that last week, meeting junkies were left sucking sadly on their lollipops. For the rest of us, the week probably progressed pretty much as usual. But if someone happened to wonder what they missed, even the mainstream papers werenít much help.

Hereís what the cityís newspapers had to say about the Board of Education meeting on February 8:

On February 10, the Chronicle ran College-prep teachers upset by threatened loss of extra period, followed on February 11 by Burning Man or not, school starts Aug. 29. The Examiner carried nothing about the meeting itself, but ran Major cash backing for city's preschools ó Taxpayer funds set to flow into pre-K education on February 7, the day before.

The papers had less to say about the Police Commission meeting on February 9:

The Chronicle provided a preview, Police panel to rule on misconduct case ó 7 officers involved in probe of 2002 Union St. brawl, as well as a follow-up, Police Commission won't drop charges in fajita-brawl case. The Examiner was silent.

Thatís all they wrote. There was apparently nothing newsworthy at all in the Planning Commission meeting.

Thatís no fun!

Imagine what they could have said. Imagine that a world-famous anthropologist came from Paris to study San Franciscoís political culture and attended the School Board meeting. Her notes might read something like this:

(To be continued on Friday.)