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Southampton board member: I will leave if meetings recorded

  • Southampton Town Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO



@kate_ashworth
Tuesday, October 10, 2017

SOUTHAMPTON — The town has received some backlash over new cameras installed to record town meetings, with one official threatening to resign.

Conservation Commission Chairwoman Marla Hanc said she has only missed five meetings in the past 10 years as a member of the public, commissioner and as chairwoman. She said she scheduled vacations around meetings.

But if commission meetings continue to be recorded, Hanc said “I will leave.”

On Sept. 25, she stopped by the meeting room to drop off paper work, but did not attend the meeting.

“I didn’t go because it was going to be recorded,” Hanc said last week.

Town officials say the intent of the cameras is not to drive residents who volunteer to serve on committees away, but to create more transparency.

For three years, Southampton has been recording Select Board meetings and annual Town Meetings. The town is contracted through Charter Communications and in partnership with the public access station Easthampton Media. Videos are broadcast on a public access channel and posted on a Vimeo web page.

Recently, the town received a $50,000 Public, Education and Government Access funding for camera equipment for other meeting rooms at Town Hall, the Edwards Public Library and for the William E. Norris School.

Select Board Chairman Charlie Kaniecki said committees and boards are not obligated to record meetings, but it is encouraged. Meetings are required to be recorded if a request is made.

With the new equipment, those in small meeting rooms can record by simply pressing a button. But Kaniecki has also requested a videographer from Easthampton Media film meetings outside of Town Hall, such as a tour of East Street with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission.

Kaniecki said he requests meetings to be recorded that he thinks are important and the public should know about, such as the School Committee meetings, since a large percentage of the town’s budget goes to school funding.

Equipment is not yet set up at the elementary school, but Norris School Committee Chairwoman Erin Couture said she is all for videotaping meetings.

“We want to be as transparent as possible,” Couture said.

Kaniecki said he’s heard concerns from some board members who worry about being “under a microscope” and running meetings in the correct format.

Hanc said the commission follows the law. They allow the meetings to be recorded when it is requested. However, when a meeting is to be recorded and posted online, Hanc said she will not participate due to personal reasons.

Hanc added that people need to show up to meetings rather than watch it from home, that way they can ask questions and get a better understanding about what is being discussed.

“We need people to participate,” Hanc said.

Easthampton had similar problems in 2012 when cameras where installed in meeting rooms and then-mayor Michael Tautznik issued a memo asking boards to activate cameras for each meeting. Some volunteers said they would resign.

“There’s always backlash when you change things,” Easthampton Media executive director Kathy Lynch said.

“Our desire is to never infringe on anyone’s privacy,” Lynch said, adding that power to record is in the hands of the user, not Easthampton Media. When the camera is off, it’s off.

In Easthampton, Mayor Karen Cadieux said in the email recording meetings has been a positive move for the city, despite the concerns. She said it allows residents to view meetings that they would not have been able to attend.

She said under City Council Rule 11K, all committees of the City Council shall make use of public video recording equipment in order to record any official meeting.

In 2013, Northampton installed cameras in all of its meeting rooms throughout the city and required boards and committee to record all meetings.

In Southampton, other committees outside of the Conservation Commission do have a problem with recording of meetings.

Finance Committee Chairman Michael Rosenburg said members voted as a committee to record the meetings and intend to take another vote after each election cycle, which will allow new members to weigh in.

“Our current committee is in support of the transparency and accessibility that recording the meetings brings,” Rosenburg wrote in an email. “And while we all may not be the most comfortable in front of the camera, it is something we voted to work through to help bring more information to those that cannot attend in person.”

While Rosenburg said the committee has done a nice job of reviewing and posting the meeting minutes, he said “videotaping the meeting helps us to continue the process of making information available to the public.”

Historical Commission Chairman Robert Kozub said meetings are held at various locations and the commission has not discussed whether to regularly record meetings.

Council on Aging Board Chairwoman Nilda Cohen said she’s heard the controversy on videotaping meetings, but said she’s OK with recording the COA meetings. Although she said people are going to be a little more careful about who they criticize during a public meeting, as someone might see it later.

“It’s going to eliminate all that hearsay,” Cohen said.

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at cashworth@gazettenet.com.