Decision comes after new citizens’ group launched petition drive
After hearing from a dozen residents and receiving a petition with more than 500 signatures at its Sept. 5 meeting, the Manteo Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to approve televising its meetings as well as the meetings of the Manteo Planning Board and the Preservation and Architectural Review Committee.
The vote brought cheers and applause in a commissioners meeting room that was filled with supporters of broadcasting the proceedings.
The move marks a dramatic reversal for the Manteo board, which as recently as March, rejected the idea of televising meetings when Commissioner Eddie Mann’s motion to air them on CURRENT TV failed to even get a second. Until now, Manteo had been the only Dare County municipality not to allow cameras to record those public meetings.
One factor that likely played a role in this change of heart was the recent creation of Manteo Citizens for Open Government, a group that was focused, first and foremost, on advocating for television in public meetings. After its formation, the organization quickly set about the task of collecting hundreds of signatures on a petition to present at the Sept. 5 commissioners’ meeting.
In a statement announcing the group’s debut last month, organizer Bebe Woody said that “Ultimately, the goal of our new group is to re-activate our townspeople, business owners and taxpayers to take more of an educated and active stance in the policies and actions that impact our experience in Manteo. And creating easy access to the monthly Manteo Commissioner Meetings via a televised format is the first step.”
At the Sept. 5 meeting, Woody was the first person to speak during public comment, explaining that televised meetings were vital to senior citizens and the disabled. “I know there are going to be times eventually when I won’t be able to come to meetings,” she added.
Woody was followed to the podium by other members of Manteo Citizens for Open Government.
John Adams assured the commissioners that the effort to collect signatures and build community support for airing the meetings “was an exercise in citizenship…The response to our effort was overwhelmingly positive.”
Edward Greene noted that televising meeting was important to him, adding that, “I’m ninety-three years of age. I would love to know what is happening in my beloved Manteo.”
Two main themes emerged during the public comments. One was that for older members of the community, television was a vital way to keep abreast of what town officials were doing. The second was that televised meetings would allow residents to feel a stronger connection to a town that most of the speakers lauded as a special and endearing place.
“There’s something about this town that people just want to be a part of…it’s a town like no other” Ben Reynolds told the commissioners. He added that he supported airing the meetings as a way “we can be more involved, in my opinion, in the greatest town in the state.”
After Malcolm Fearing spoke and presented the board with the petition signatures, Mayor Bobby Owens — who had made televising meetings a priority — quickly called for a vote on the matter. After Commissioner Mann made a motion to televise the commissioners’ meetings, Commissioner Hannon Fry amended it to include the Manteo Planning Board and Preservation and Architectural Review Committee.
Moments after the vote, a victorious Woody said that, “I was keeping everything crossed [but] I just could not believe that our leaders would let us down.”
Asked what Manteo Citizens for Open Government, having achieved its first big goal, would turn its attention to next, she said simply, “we’ll see.”