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Local Government Broadcasts Meetings, Press Keeps Watchful Eye

To most Americans, the governments in their towns and regional areas, called counties, are the governments they interact with the most.

In this segment of a multi-part series, VOA correspondent Jeffrey Young looks at how the governments of Montgomery County and the city of Rockville, in the Atlantic Coast state of Maryland practice transparency, and how the local press watches carefully to ensure it.

In Montgomery County, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C., you can see local government at work by watching cable TV. And the local press is also watching -- to make sure that what you see is what you really get.

Holly Woerner is a reporter and program presenter at County Cable 6, the TV channel run by Montgomery County's local government. County Cable 6 runs programs daily from nine a.m. until two the following morning, including live coverage of official meetings. "People in Montgomery County can see exactly what their government is doing, and in fact, they can actually watch it on TV," she says.

Everyone working at County Cable 6 has to do several jobs to keep up with the broadcast schedule.

Along with TV broadcasts by Montgomery County and several of its cities, there is also a lively local press. Judy Hruz is the editor of a local newspaper called the Montgomery County Gazette. She says the press has a responsibility to be skeptical about what elected officials say and do.

"That's the most important thing that we do -- make sure that the community knows that we're watching out for their best interests and that government knows that we're watching out over them and making sure that they're conducting the business of the people in an appropriate manner."

The Gazette is not alone in performing that so-called watchdog role. The Washington Post newspaper also has reporters who cover Montgomery County and its cities. Miranda Spivack is one of them.

"You talked about making some cuts in the baseline budget, for actually beginning the budget process. Could you talk a little more about where those were and what they represent?" she asked the county executive.

Spivack says that elected officials have to be held accountable for the tax revenues they collect from county residents.

"The direction we go in is, 'How is your money being spent? Is information coming to you in a reasonable and quick and accessible way? Is government wasting your money?' Those are the kind of issues we look at top to bottom," says Spivack.

But the public's interest goes far beyond how tax revenues are spent. There is always the issue of integrity -- whether elected officials are being honest in their words and actions.

Gazette Editor Judy Hruz says that while it is commendable that Montgomery County and its cities show their official meetings on cable TV, open government also means that elected officials must expect the press to investigate their proposals to see if the public will really benefit, or whether a few will gain at the expense of others.

"Yes, we could sit here in the newsroom and watch it on TV, but we would never really be sure that what we're getting is exactly as it is happening,” says Hruz. “We have to pretend that they [local governments] are not transparent, that there is something they might be hiding. Because otherwise, we are not doing our jobs as good journalists."

Many local governments in the United States televise their proceedings, as Montgomery County and its cities do. And in each one of those places, the press is there to watch carefully and ask tough questions.