New policy follows backlash from citizens after city council members seen napping, reading novels during discussions.

The city of Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, had a problem. It had come to citizens’ attention that a number of their city council members were committing improprieties. Even worse, they were brazenly engaging in this unethical conduct right in the council’s chambers.

So what sort of transgressions were going on? Taking bribes? Getting grabby with interns? No, they were sleeping during city council meetings, as can be seen in the video here.

To be fair, no one was showing up in their pajamas with a pillow and blanket. Instead, those who were sleeping were dozing off in their seats as their colleagues gave speeches and brought forth topics for debate. Still, most people would say that they’d prefer their elected representatives at least stay conscious when ostensibly discussing and setting public policies that affect their constituents. Oh, and in addition to those who dozed off, one city councilman was seen with a historical fiction novel in hand, reading it at his seat while he was supposed to be listening to the discussion going on.

The people of Ichikawa were, naturally, extremely upset about this. When the napping was first noticed back in the summer, the city received more than 100 phone calls and letters of complaint, with messages such as “Do your jobs!”, “This is beyond lazy,” and “They should be removed from office.”

In an effort to restore the public’s faith in the council, its more earnest members came up with an idea. About five years ago, the Ichikawa city council started streaming its plenary sessions on its YouTube Channel, and until last summer the camera would generally zoom in and focus on whoever was standing at the podium at the front of the room and addressing the other members. Now, though, the cameras are turned around more frequently are turned around more frequently to show the faces of the listening council members, so that everyone watching the stream can see if they’re awake, as shown in the part of the video cued up here.

The facial view is key. If seen from behind, there’s wiggle room for council members to claim that they weren’t asleep, just sitting very steal and breathing deeply, perhaps with their head cocked at a slightly unusual angle while paying close attention to the proceedings. With the camera pointed at their faces, though, anyone sleeping on the job will be caught red-handed/eyes-closed.

The new camera angles started being used in September, with city council chairman Osami Matsuaga saying “With this near measure, I hope that all members of the council will conduct themselves appropriately and make an effort to earn back the trust of our city’s residents.” Yuki Sato, a councilwoman serving her first term, also voiced her support for the countermeasure. “I think it is a very god thing for people to be able to visually check on the council members using their devices. It creates a cohesive atmosphere that the council meetings are to be taken seriously.”

However, turning the cameras around has not instantly solved the problem. During the council’s September meetings, the most recent session to be live-streamed, some members were still seen nodding off, and some have voiced their displeasure at the new camera protocol, saying “The real problem is that the discussions are sleep-inducing,” and “The fault lies with the uninteresting, unengaging discussions.” One even went so far as to say “I don’t agree with them telling us ‘Don’t doze off,’ like we’re children or something.”

▼ It seems like the most effective way to avoid having people tell you “Don’t doze off” would be to not doze off in the first place, but apparently that’s too complex a strategy for that councilperson.

Several Twitter commenters, though, are of the opinion that treating the offending council members like misbehaving children is entirely warranted.

“I think even schoolkids could come up with better excuses than the council members did.”
“They’re less mature than actual children. Take naps during work at a regular job, and they’ll can you.”
“Absolutely no sense of responsibility. When I think about how our tax money goes to pay their salaries, it makes me want to flush them down the drain.”
“If you’re going to be that lazy, then just resign already.”
“How about this: In exchange for a 100-yen donation to the city, you get to chuck an eraser at a city council member who’s fallen asleep [like teachers do to kids who sleep in class in anime and manga].”

That last one sounds like it could be a real revenue driver for the Ichikawa, but it doesn’t sound like the city is ready to enact such a program just yet. With the council’s next session scheduled to start next month, though Still, it would probably be a good idea for every member on the council to catch up on sleep before their next batch of plenary sessions begins next month.

Source: NHK, FNN Prime Online, Twitter
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert image: Pakutaso
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