After the Mayor and Commissioners started playing on the “Elkton Channel” on YouTube in September 2009, Someone Noticed found the leap into the 21st century digital age valuable. It made local government more accessible to a larger array of people, while permitting this citizen journalism blog to use the stream to get the story right. But in going to the recording of the May 5th meeting to write an article about a controversial closing, we were surprised to find some missing footage. The ommission documented Mayor Joseph Fisona’s request to close the meeting while people waited to offer public remarks and the board split on the vote.
Since there was a gap in the tape, we brought the matter to the attention of the town, which advised that a technical glitch occurred. But after filing a Freedom of Information Act request, we discovered the missing moments on the original DVD and informed the town. Today they corrected the YouTube omission and are streaming the full content of the public meeting.
The video shows the mayor asking for a motion to end the session while a member of the audience politely calls out, letting the mayor know that he signed the log that allows him to speak. People seated in front of the camera heard the request as they turn to look to the back of the room. About the same time Commissioner Piner softly remarks to the mayor that someone wants to speak, but he says no and asks for a second. Apparently not understanding what was said, Commissioner Piner asks Mayor Fisona to repeat the request. A motion and a second by Commissioners Piner and Jablonski follow, while Commissioner Givens objects to the order.
With it becoming obvious the elected officials were done, a soft hum started growing in the surprised crowd and in a few seconds people are calling out to Mayor Fisona saying what are you doing, are you going into an executive session. Afterwards at least two people were heard telling people that they’d come to the meeting to make comments. They were curious why they hadn’t been recognized and allowed to speak since they adhered to the new public comments policy that the mayor put in affect after he said an earlier meeting went off course.
Making the actions of government as open to the public as possible is important and lately the town has implemented regressive steps that restrict public input. That’s stirred up controversy with the public and Commissioner Givens has asked the mayor to reconsider his position several times.
Beyond the technical breakdown that caused this omission in the YouTube stream, the town only broadcasts one-half of its board meetings. The most important one, the workshops, where public policy discussions are discussed in detail are not streamed. We’d encourage the elected officials in Elkton to err on the side of lots of sunshine on governmental processes. It’s good for them and its improves the quality of decision making in local government.
So readers of Someone Noticed don’t have to go back and determine what portion fills in the gap, here is the stream of the omitted part. One final note, we believe that once a document is born digital, it should not be edited in any way, even if it just removes extraneous moments. That editing creates the potential for errors and may not be permissible under the Maryland Freedom of Information Act, which is a subject we’ll examine in more detail later.