Town Stopped Recording So Proceedings “Feel More Comfortable, Less Guarded and Apprehensive,” Official Says

Once Someone Noticed learned of the sudden, surprise decision to halt the long-time practice of videotaping workshops, the most important deliberations when trying to follow Elkton government, we asked several questions of officials. Although we’re still waiting for Mayor Fisona’s answers, as he was the official that issued the order, Town Administrator Lewis George has responded to o ur query.  We’re copying his complete email below for readers since the matter of more restrictions on public information has web traffic way up today.   Mr. George suggests citizens may use the minutes to follow board activities.  By the time an interested observer is able to view minutes, the subject is really old news.  In many instances, the town will have formally ratified the straw vote it takes at these meetings and moved on before the information becomes public.  As of this afternoon, the last workshop minutes available for an interested observer is June 9, 2010, over two months ago. 

Hopefully, Mayor Fisona, the source of the on-the-spot order, will answer so we can add his position on the decision. 

——– Email From Lewis George

Michael:

We have decided not to videotape workshops any longer; however, minutes will be taken and will be available to the public, consistent with the Open Meetings Act. Workshops, albeit open meetings accessible to the public, are intended by the Board to be a forum for informal and frank discussion of matters by Board and by persons invited to speak before the Board. We feel that under certain circumstances people feel more comfortable, and less guarded and apprehensive, if they are given an opportunity to share their ideas and initiate a healthy discussion of those ideas when not being videotaped.

All regularly scheduled meetings, i.e., meetings held on the first and third Wednesdays of each month, will continue to be videotaped.

Since the Board’s decisions on matters affecting the Town, its citizens, and the business community are always made in an open meeting, which is recorded in video and audio formats (if all the equipment is functioning properly), as well as documented by minutes, we feel that the goal of maintaining open communication and transparency of government is achieved without compromise.

Let me know if you have any additional questions. Thank you!

Lewis

——END OF EMAIL

Editor’s Note:  In reference to our statement about awaiting for a response from Mayor Fisona, he has now responded saying, that he talked to Lewis [town administrator] and believes he has responded to our concerns.  That note came in an hour after we posted this news piece.

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9 responses to “Town Stopped Recording So Proceedings “Feel More Comfortable, Less Guarded and Apprehensive,” Official Says

  1. Mike – You have just got to start taping these meetings!

    How laughable is it that the reason they are no longer recording them is because people will feel more comfortable – BULL!

    I call your attention to this section of the email:
    (We feel that under certain circumstances people feel more comfortable, and less guarded and apprehensive, if they are given an opportunity to share their ideas and initiate a healthy discussion of those ideas when not being videotaped.)

    “less guarded” – Read: “The elected officials (my bosses) don’t want the citizenry to hold them to their public or private promises or get a glimpse of the way they conduct themselves.

    Remember, less than 1-percent of the voters who cast ballots EVER step foot into a public meeting and if the elected officials can insulate themselves from those who cast ballots, there’s a better chance for re-election (smile).

    Please let us know you or someone else will be setting up a camera and posting the good stuff to either this blog or a YouTube or U-Stream channel. I bet you’ll see a significant difference in the viewing levels compared to the no-discussion vote meetings.

    Just my 2-cents.

    Wayne

  2. Wayne: You’re absolutley right. One really wants to see effective, informed, carefully thought out decison in local government, not just stumbling along. It’s not good for community or the elected officials.

    On your specific point about the response from the Administrator, as you indicate, these workshops are tightly controlled things. Few citizens are invited to the table to speak and the pubilc isn’t allowed to comment. The only regular participants are the politicians and a few staff members. And the few times others have been there, I doubt they’ve ever fetl intimated by being recorded. Got to be some other reason. When I asked about this surprise decision and asked if I should talk to Lewis I was told that Lewis wasn’t involved in it, the mayor had made the decision just before the meeting started.

    On your point about taping the meetings, again you’re right. There’s a Public Meetings Board Decision that says citizens and news media have the right to record the meetings. There were a couple of cases where MD towns tried to stop the citizen taping. In once case the officials walked out of the room; in another they had the police shut the citizen down. The Attorney General got involved, the MD Open Meetings Board, etc. and there’s a formal ruling on that. Guess Somone Noticed will have to take the tripod and all the equipment in and get Espan, all Elkton news all the time up and running.

    When they say they want transparency in govt., this is definitely not the way you get that done, epsecially right after a trail when the recording was cited as evidence in a courtroom decision as the mayor and commissioners waited outside to testify. Moments before they would have been called into the courtroom to testify, the town decided it woudl agree that it exceeded its authority and settle the case. Could that be the reason.

    BTW, I routinely audio record the meetings and did that the other evening. Elkton often has trouble with the PA system and officials speak so softly, it’s hard for the small audience that’s there to to hear what’s going on. In this instance, I moved to the very front row and still had trouble. I’m in the process of having the audio digitlaly enhanced with software so I can complete the news reports on the meeting. This is the board that said it wanted open govt.

    Too, I wonder last year the board officially debated for months whether they were going to tweet and twitter and go on FB. That was all done in pulic. In which open to the citizens meeting did the commissioners make this decision or did Mayor Fisona just do it on the spur of the moment.

  3. News Update: In reference to our statement about awaiting for a response from Mayor Fisona, he has now responded saying, that he talked to Lewis [town administrator] and believes he has responded to our concerns.

  4. Crazy Old History Teacher

    Just you wait until FISONALEAKS.COM surfaces on the world wide web!

  5. What did Joe do. Say it ain’t true.

  6. Main Street Watcher on the night shift

    Hey while you are so busy noticing stuff how come you didn’t notice that bike patrol. Week before the election it made all the papers with big pictures but they have hardly been back now that the election is over. How come you didn’t notice that some one noticed.

  7. Main Street Watcher on the Night Shift. First, thanks for keeping an eye on Main Street. In ref to your question about why Someone Noticed, didn’t notice, we did. Amazing how much publicity the footpatrols and the bicycle-patrol got in the couple of weeks leading up to the election. And there was a great presence. But, as you point out, the patrol eased way off soon after. In fact, you don’t see a patrol much right now. Several of the downtown merchants were talking about the increasingproblems with crime and associated issues just this past week. It’s a real issue, and they need to get solutions. That requires thinking it out carefully and making sure they get the professional staff involved do to the analysis.

    Anyway, we noticed. The town has been making so much news, we haven’t had time to cover it all, but we’re noticing. More improtant is what some downtown business people are saying.

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