Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Whole World is Watching. Not Any More.

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?


mccalpin said...

"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."

This, of course, is not literally true. The Council Budget Retreats are televised. You can see the video for the two Council Budget retreats for this year at the City's video repository (see July 16 and 17).

So far as I know, the goals meetings were not televised. I don't know why. It's good to ask. Perhaps because the original schedule was fouled up (I had "heard" that there was to be an all day meeting, but travel plans caused the meetings to be broken up into shorter meetings...), or some other reason...or maybe they just didn't feel like it...I don't know, but I know what I would do if I wanted to know - I would call my Council members and ask. That's what they're there for.

I am going to fuss at you about how you phrased this...you know there are people in this City who are ready to believe anything evil said about the Council or the government. Thus, when they read a reputable voice in the community (yours) making the statement that retreats are not televised, they would immediately jump to the mistaken conclusion that the budget retreats weren't televised either, which would be flat wrong.

I have no problem with your belief that all open Council meetings should be televised (where practical); in this case, I'm curious myself. But rather than making a public post with a frankly snarky comment that turned out to be inaccurate in part, wouldn't it have been better to just call a member of the Council and ask?


Mark Steger said...

Bill, as you say, some "retreats" have been video recorded. The latest ones are the first ones in some time not to be video recorded.

Also, as you say, I don't know the reasons behind this decision. The city council didn't tell us. In a way, that was kind of the whole point of the blog post.

As always, if I make any errors of fact, I welcome and urge people (including council members) to correct me.

Momaly said...

Good morning, Mark. Would like to see you push for televised RISD board meetings. I know you have connections there, so I have every faith that you can get it done.

And I agree with Bill. The best way to express your views and concerns to the council is to TALK to them (through email or phone or publicly at a meeting if you want the "world" to hear you) and not expect them to come to you and your blog.

Mark Steger said...

Thanks for the comment, Momaly. Remember, comments that are not accompanied by the commenter's full name are subject to deletion.

Sassy Texan said...


I posted something about this on the Richardson Politics FB page to open some dialogue about this very subject. We agree on the transparency topic and a move backwards.

Here is what I wrote if there is an interest to read it.

I did take the time to ask questions. And I do not think you were snarky at all. You have raised some good points.

Mr McCalpin's making the decision to fuss at you brought a chuckle. His comment of SOME people jumping to conclusions on "evil doings" is just hogwash. Some people just want to see how and what representation looks like as well as the decision made on behalf of the public.

Momally could be gracious and take on the school board to video their meetings if it is important to her. I am sure she has some connections to make that happen over asking you to take that on, too.

In this day and age of technology and issuance of devices, it should be a standard. Afterall, they have the priviledge to meet anywhere in the world after the 2007 charter change.

Cheri Duncan-Hubert