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AS WE SEE IT: Make meetings more public

On Thursday morning our editor had two meetings scheduled at 9 a.m. One was a Kiwanis meeting, the other a park board meeting. Both were important, but he had to choose one or the other. That evening he also had two events, both scheduled at 6 p.m., and had to make a similar choice. It’s a part of his job, and it isn’t a one-time thing. 

Yesterday, for instance, there was a special school board meeting scheduled for the exact same time and date as the Olive Hill City Council meeting. 

We understand. It’s hard to get everyone on the same page at the best of times. When you can, you can’t always be worried about what else is going on across town. But you should be. 

See, conflicting meetings aren’t just a problem for journalists with tight schedules. When you schedule events at the same time, you minimize the crowd or audience you can draw for your event. You minimize the reach of your message, if you have one, or split your attempts to raise funds. You keep people who want to be informed and involved citizens from fully being informed and involved citizens. 

Because journalists aren’t the only ones making decisions about which event or meeting to attend. The people are too. 

If you are an elected official of any sort, you should be accessible to your constituents. Scheduling meetings without concern to what else your constituents might have going on, however, is not being accessible. Sure, they can request meeting minutes, and they have to be made available to them. But the meeting minutes don’t give the reader the nuance that being present or watching live offers. 

Organizations need to do a better job, and be more cognizant of what other organizations and communities are doing. Not only can that help them work together to do wonderful things for our county and our communities, but it can help more people be involved. That’s something every community organization needs. 

Something that local government entities with regular meetings can do is something they already started dipping their toes into during the pandemic, and that is livestreaming and/or creating digital recordings of all their meetings. This allows folks to follow along from home if they can’t get away in time to attend the meeting. Saving that digital livestream as a video file after the meeting has completed also allows them to come back and review it later, or to view it at their leisure if they had another event scheduled at the same time. 

Olive Hill City Council did both of these things during the pandemic. Though they have ceased the livestreams now that they’ve returned to in-person meetings, their pandemic policy is the very model of transparency we’d like to see become the norm for every meeting. 

Grayson also livestreamed their meetings during the pandemic, but they did not archive the videos on their social media pages after the meeting had concluded. Their reason for this was that the comments section became impossible to moderate. That’s understandable. Between spam and inappropriate, off-topic, and heated comments, you either have to let it go and not engage at all, or completely lock-down the comment section to keep it from going off the rails. Neither of these are in the job description of our city administrative staff and keeping up with it would be a full-time job in and of itself. 

The third option, that we really like as a compromise, is the policy of the Carter County Fiscal Court. Fiscal court has streamed meetings in the past, both Zoom meetings where all participants are remote as well as meetings where masked magistrates met in person and the meeting was streamed to viewers at home. But regardless of how they do it, the fiscal court always video records and saves their meetings. Copies of these video recordings are available on requests, as DVDs or digital files. It’s not as quick or convenient as pulling up the meeting online, but it does give you the option to hear the full context and nuance that meeting minutes do not provide. 

If this all sounds like stuff that would make our jobs easier as journalists with tight schedules, it is. But it’s also important for you. 

In a world where people are more and more skeptical of news media, and the information we provide you, you need to be able to fact check us. If something doesn’t sound right to you, you need to be able to follow that up, if it’s important to you. A direct video record of the meeting – as it occurred – can’t lie to you. It can’t obfuscate, it can’t misrepresent, and it can’t spin. The person on the video may or may not be trying to do all of those things, sure, but the video itself is an objective and impartial witness. 

In this day and age, there is no reason it shouldn’t be recorded, kept, and made accessible to all. 

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