In discussing a proposal to livestream meetings, some on the Kingsport Board of Education can’t seem to find the forest for the trees. After all, the board conducts the public’s business and should do all in its power to give taxpayers digital access to its discussions and votes.
The notion has been kicked around for several meetings about process and costs even as President Jim Welch continues to pick nits. At the last meeting, Welch said that any broadcast, audio or visual, should include only board business items and specifically exclude any public comment. He said whatever the board does should be directly related to promoting the school system, policy and planning.
In other words, he wants a censor guarding the camera to ensure the larger public doesn’t hear anything that might be negative from public speakers at meetings and wants to project a positive board image rather than what might actually be going on, such as disagreements — like the one over broadcasting meetings. Welch is against it, while other members like Todd Golden are for it.
“Every other public official body broadcasts their meetings. I don’t know why we should be any different,” said Golden.
Neither do we. And let’s not bring cost into the discussion — it’s negligible.
The informal consensus at a recent work session was for Assistant Superintendent of Administration Andy True to look further into what it would take to broadcast audio only of the meetings and work sessions live on the school system’s student radio station. Why no video?
Welch said he learned at a recent Tennessee School Boards Association workshop that most school boards do not broadcast public comments. And that’s relevant why? It may well be that most municipal boards, county commissions and county school boards don’t broadcast their meetings, but in these parts we do the right thing and keep the public informed. The Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen, Sullivan County Commission and Sullivan County Board of Education all do so.
Board members Melissa Woods and Brandon Fletcher also expressed little interest in video. Woods said video would be a more compelling medium, but that the startup and recurring costs might not be worth it.
“I personally don’t see the necessity in video,” Fletcher said. “I don’t know that the investment would be worth it.”
Fletcher is grabbing for straws and excuses. We repeat, cost would — or should — be negligible. We’re talking broadcasting a school board meeting, not a Hollywood production.
The letter of the Tennessee Open Meetings Act states: “The general assembly hereby declares it to be the policy of this state that the formation of public policy and decisions is public business and shall not be conducted in secret. All meetings of any governing body are declared to be public meetings open to the public at all times, except as provided by the Constitution of Tennessee.” The spirit of the law should compel the school board to see to it that meetings reach as wide an audience as possible.
Welch said he is concerned that the meetings might become centered on being entertainment or drawing viewers rather than doing the school system’s business.
Vice President Julie Byers counters that having such livestreams is done by other public bodies and likely is long overdue.
“I just don’t understand the apprehension,” Golden said. “We should get with the program.”
We would remind Welch that the meetings only become entertainment when those on camera make them so. Do the people’s business without theatrics, and they’re merely meetings.
Golden is spot on: Get with the program.