Reminder to self: in 2015, ask Richardson City Council candidates if they pledge to video record all city council meetings. What's that you say? Council meetings are already recorded? That's what I thought. Then, I learned about the three meetings the current city council held (with one more scheduled for September 3) to review and discuss council goals for 2013-2015. No video recording for any of them.
After the jump, why we even have to ask for something everyone thinks we already have.
The four meetings in question are the meetings the council uses to deliberate what actions the council will take in the next two years. If you want to understand the thinking that goes into the council's priorities and plans, these are the meetings to watch. Often, when the actions are subsequently taken, they are rubber-stamped by unanimous votes without any deliberation. Those later meetings offer little or no explanation for the council's thinking behind each action. But it's those later meetings that are recorded, not the ones where the action items were actually deliberated and decided.
Crazy, right? It seems like it shouldn't even be necessary, but it turns out there's nothing to force the council not to do crazy things. State law is very strict in its requirements to make all council meetings open. There has to be an agenda. The public has to be allowed to attend. There have to be published minutes.
But, importantly, the state does not require video recording. The Richardson City Charter does not require it, either. There's no ordinance requiring it. Apparently, the fact that all council meetings for the last few years have been video recorded is no guarantee that all future meetings will be, too. The practice can be suspended or canceled at any time by whim of the council.
This city council thinks that all they have to do is call a meeting a "retreat" and, miraculously, there's no longer any compelling reason to video record the meeting. State law makes no distinction between meetings and retreats, but this city council thinks that by calling their meeting a "retreat" they can turn the cameras off and no harm will be done. They move the meeting to the Eisemann Center, not city hall, and schedule it at 7:30 a.m. Saturday morning, and conduct the public's business out of the prying eyes of the public to the maximum extent that state law allows.
Hence the need for the reminder. Let's see if we can get the next city council on record pledging to end this practice of turning off the cameras. We've made too much progress on increasing transparency in how our city is governed to allow this step backward to become the new established custom. In 2013, I didn't think the question needed to be asked of candidates, but until there's an ordinance requiring it, every future candidate should be forced to go on record: Will you pledge to video record *all* city council meetings?