For months, as the Anne Arundel County Council prepared to start televising its biweekly meetings on local access cable, council members joked with each other about who would surrender first to the urge to grandstand.
But no one was laughing last week when Councilman Bill D. Burlison (D-Odenton) twice launched into speeches that veered off the agenda and into his personal views and accomplishments.
At midnight, after the final gavel came down on Anne Arundel's second-ever televised council meeting, Councilman John J. Klocko III (R-Crofton) berated Burlison for his behavior.
"I was really disgusted," Klocko said later in an interview. "I think right from the start, we all agreed that the television cameras were there for the people, so they could see government doing business. They were not put there for council members to engage in political campaigning."
As the world moves into the digital age, the Anne Arundel County Council is just starting to grapple with this more mundane technological hop forward--televised meetings.
Around the region, this is hardly a new issue. C-SPAN began televising congressional hearings in Washington in 1979. In Virginia, the Fairfax City Council debated the political pitfalls of television 15 years ago. Montgomery County has been televising meetings since 1986. And this year, the Maryland General Assembly is going one step further, placing its daily sessions on the Internet so people can listen in real time.
"Once you've had the cameras around for a while, you get the sense there's not much consciousness of them," said Patrick Lacefield, a spokesman for the Montgomery County Council.
But in Anne Arundel, the cameras are new, and the kinks have yet to be ironed out. So last week, after the Burlison flap, members began contemplating ground rules for on-camera behavior.
Burlison defended his comments, saying council members enjoy certain constitutional rights of free speech, and he believes they have a special duty to exercise them at these public forums.
"All of what I said was completely proper, in my view, and within my prerogative," he said. "If there are members of the council that wish to characterize that as grandstanding, that's their prerogative."
Council Chairman Daniel E. Klosterman (D-Glen Burnie) said that a resolution may be as simple as asking council members to avoid casually straying from the agenda, as they have been known to do. Or it could mean demanding that they adhere strictly to Robert's Rules of Order or to other specific provisions they draft barring rambling political rhetoric.
"After what happened last week, I think we need something," Klosterman said. "What he did out there was campaigning, and that's wrong. I've talked to other council members who were miffed. We just think it was unwarranted."
Most of the concern stemmed from a speech Burlison made at the end of the session.
In it, he noted that it has taken a long time to get the television cameras rolling, and during that period "a number of important issues were missed" by the viewing public.
"For example," he said, "My bill to eliminate County Council pensions, which was defeated by a vote of 4 to 3. And my bill urging our delegation to put an elected school board on our ballot. The council and the people supported it overwhelmingly, but the delegation is not listening."
Councilwoman Barbara Samorajczyk (D-Annapolis) said she just shook her head as Burlison counted off his legislative accomplishments for the television audience.
"It was a real disappointment," she said. "Having the cameras here was meant to serve the people, not to promote ourselves individually."
But Samorajczyk wasn't sure there is a good remedy for the problem.
Several council members said they want to resolve the disagreement now so that it doesn't follow them onto the council floor Monday and reach the county's 56,000 cable television viewers.
"As a council, I think we just need to sit down and talk about what we think is appropriate behavior," said Councilwoman Pamela G. Beidle (D-Linthicum Heights). "We've got to just hope that having the cameras there won't become too big a distraction, given all the important business we have in front of us."