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In Our Opinion: All Township Boards Need To Record Meetings

“I think we need to be public, I think there is little excuse in this day and age to not be.”

Those were Mayor Phil Kramer’s words in August, 2016, when he was addressing the Library Board of Trustees, urging them – to put it mildly – to begin recording or televising their meetings.

At the time, it had been nine months since Kramer’s initial request to the board to televise, or at least record, its meetings, and he was frustrated that it had not happened.

At another meeting, Kramer said that any township body that is subject to the Open Public Meetings Act – also known as the Sunshine Law – should record its meetings. The Sunshine Law applies to any public body that has the authority to vote on public matters, or spend public money.

We agree with the mayor, but we think that idea should be taken further: Every township board and commission should be required to record their meetings.

Including the Township Council, Franklin has 20 separate boards and commissions listed on the township web site, seven of which are “advisory” in nature. That means they don’t make decisions on their own, they merely make suggestions to the Township Council, and they are exempt from the Sunshine Law’s provisions.

The Township Council, Planning Board and Zoning Board of Adjustment already record their meetings; the council also live streams theirs through the township web site. The meeting videos are then played on the local government cable channel, and are posted to the township’s YouTube channel. There’s no reason why recorded meetings of the township’s other boards could not also be posted to that YouTube channel, so that they can be viewed not only by the public, but also by board members if necessary.

A board’s ability to spend tax money or take binding votes on matters in the public interest should not be the limiting criteria as to whether its meetings are recorded. In fact, in our opinion, that’s really immaterial when you’re talking about governmental transparency.

Any board or commission makes decisions that can affect township residents in one way or another. Advisory boards regularly make recommendations to the council that routinely end up as ordinances or resolutions, or result in the council spending tax money.

Residents have the right to know the deliberative process behind those recommendations, and the township government has the obligation to make sure it happens.

Another justification for the recording of every township board and commission meeting presented itself twice over the last month.

Recent meetings of the Historic Preservation Advisory Commission and the Hamilton Street Advisory Board were unnecessarily sidetracked because of arguments over decisions made at prior meetings.

In the case of the former, an applicant and a commissioner argued over a decision the commission made months earlier, and in the latter, several board members spent more than a half-hour arguing over a decision made at the board’s last meeting.

In both cases, minutes from the meetings in question were referred to, but they did not settle the disputes. Not surprising, since some of these boards’ minutes leave much to be desired.

We maintain that those arguments could have ended much sooner, and with less acrimony, had the meetings been recorded and the videos reviewed.

Video recording technology has advanced to the point where buying the equipment would not represent an economic burden on the township. Besides, to once again quote Mayor Kramer, “Democracy costs money. Open government costs money.”

We agree.

Township Council members often talk about the importance of transparency in government. Until all meetings are recorded, that’s just so many empty words.

 

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Copyright 2017 The Franklin Reporter & Advocate
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