Farmington city council member Maria Taylor wants more council meetings on camera, but that’s not likely to happen.
Currently, officials televise their second meeting of the month. The first meeting is held off camera, in a city hall conference room
On Monday (June’s first meeting), Taylor said that televising only one meeting a month “strikes me as a bit bizarre.”
“Many of the discussions that lead up to the things we vote on in the second meeting of the month take place in this session,” she said. “In the interest of general transparency and letting citizens see how these decisions develop, I think we should record both of them.”
Several of her colleagues and city manager David Murphy felt that officials get more done when cameras remain out of the room.
“Thinking back over my time on council, some of the council members we’ve had, some of the council members we have, there’s times when people pander and posture to the camera,” council member Bill Galvin said. “If all of our dialogue is talking to the camera, I think it’ll change the dialogue.”
Mayor Steven Schneemann agreed that the off-camera meetings have a “more relaxed atmosphere” with less posturing and grandstanding.
“We each learn more from each other, we learn more from administration,” he said. “People feel more at ease asking questions that they may not ask if they know they’re on camera and it’s being recorded. My concern is that it would actually slow down the pace of getting things done in the city.”
Mayor Pro Tem Sara Bowman said she had no strong feeling one way or the other. She noted that the first meeting is more of a “study session” and less formal.
“I agree that this type of conversation is different than when we sit on the dais,” she said. “This requires me to look at you and listen to you.”
She and Galvin also mentioned a preference for talking to people who attend the more informal first meeting.
While Taylor saw the issue as one of transparency, Schneemann and Galvin pointed out that the city complies with the state’s Open Meetings Act. Schneemann said that any member of the community can attend and record any council meeting.
Murphy also pointed out that the council meetings are meetings for the council, which people can come to observe. “I think this is a great forum, you get a lot more done this way,” he added.
Council member Joe LaRussa suggested measuring the reach of meeting broadcasts and looking at it as “an engagement vehicle.”
“Sometimes a transcript is better than the minutes,” he said. “I think it’s worth examining whether there’s a higher value for engagement with a full transcription, video or otherwise, and do we see enough value in that to act on it. This is one more tool for us to engage the community.”
Farmington Voice live-streamed Monday’s city council meeting. The full recording is posted on the Farmington Voice Facebook page.