A Question of Transparency

***Updated Post with BOE responses***

From: Trina Baughn

Sent: Friday, September 14, 2012 4:09 PM

To: ‘Mr. DiGrigorio’; ‘Mr. Eby’; ‘Mr. Fillauer’; ‘Ms. Agle’; ‘Ms. Richter’
Subject: Oak Ridge Schools Policy Change to Ban Televised Media – Meeting Minutes/Vote/Information Request

Members of the Oak Ridge Board of Education:

I was contacted by a concerned citizen that you have on your upcoming agenda a potential second and final vote to ban future video tapings of your meetings to include televised press. I was sure this was a misunderstanding until I consulted the agenda for your last meeting (found here) and read  under A. Approval of Revised School Board Meetings Policy 1.400 that “No one shall bring a camera, camcorder or other photographic equipment to Board meetings without the consent of the Board.”

This proposed change is very concerning because it would essentially eliminate what little transparency your board currently offers the public. As we are all aware, the local print media is stretched so thin that they cannot always cover your meetings – but local cable access DOES. Furthermore, since often times your agendas are not posted online until just a few business days prior to a meeting (I recall that your June meeting did not go online until only one business day prior) and since your meeting minutes are often not published until months after a meeting has occurred and because there is always a city council meeting occurring at the same time as your regularly scheduled meetings, transparency is even further diminished.

I request that you reconsider your stance on this issue if you voted in favor of this policy change. I respectfully request a draft copy of the meeting minutes from the August 27, 2012 meeting to include your discussion of this matter as well as your recorded votes. Because your next meeting and subsequent vote is scheduled for September 24th and because the Open Records act would allow you until after this meeting to fulfill any formal request, I request an exception to policy and would like to review and possibly copy these documents no later than September 18th. Please advise of your ability to fulfill this request in a timely manner.

Regards,

Trina Baughn

On Fri, Sep 14, 2012 at 4:22 PM, Angi Agle wrote:

Trina,

The agenda alone does not reflect what happened.  Usually, it’s best to attend or watch the meeting, or at least ask about the outcome, before drawing conclusions from the agenda.

The purpose of a second reading is that changes are often made to proposed policies on first reading.  Such was the case with this policy, which covers recording by audience members, not the televised recording for public broadcast by our own school system.

Several board members raised concerns about this provision.  Indeed, I did, based on the fact that we open most meetings with student performances; I would not want to deter any parent from taking pictures or video of their own children at a Board meeting.  Since all of our meetings are televised and anyone who wishes to do so can record them, it seems sort of pointless.

This was a TSBA-initiated policy intended to prevent the disruption of meetings.   Perhaps it has been a problem in some districts, but not here (to my knowledge).  However, we are under no obligation to rubber-stamp any proposed policy from any source, and generally do not do so.

Feel free to download the next agenda, to see the changes we requested.

— Angi Agle

From: Trina Baughn

Sent: Friday, September 14, 2012 4:31 PM
To: ‘Angi Agle’; ‘Mr. DiGrigorio’; ‘Mr. Eby’; ‘Mr. Fillauer’; ‘Ms. Richter’

Angi,

Thank you for your prompt response. Was the matter voted on? Who made the original recommendation? Will my request (for the minutes) be honored prior to the next meeting?

Trina

From: Angi Agle
Sent: Friday, September 14, 2012 4:40 PM
To: ‘Trina Baughn’
Subject: RE: Oak Ridge Schools Policy Change to Ban Televised Media – Meeting Minutes/Vote/Information Request

It was voted on, and approved in first reading, with the understanding that the language will be modified before the second reading.   If it is not modified to our satisfaction, it likely will not pass (based on the comments made at the last meeting).

The minutes are not available at this point.  In the past, we have not released draft minutes, as they sometime contain errors.  You are certainly entitled to the minutes once they are approved.

The meeting is probably still replaying on Ch. 15, and you are welcome to watch or record it to see the discussion on this issue for yourself.  I don’t know the schedule, but Steve Cinnamon (scinnamon@ortn.edu) can probably tell you when it will air next.

— Angi Agle

From: Donato DiGregorio

Sent: Friday, September 14, 2012 4:47 PM
To: Angi Agle
Cc: Trina Baughn

There was a lot of discussion about this.  I have many concerns about the proposed policy change.  We are talking about public meetings.  Since 1971, when I joined the ORS, I have not known of any problem regarding recording of BOE meetings.  In fact, I mentioned that night (August 27)  that anyone can take a picture of me anytime they want while at one of these meetings (I just hope they get my best side).

I held my nose and voted for the passing of the first reading because I want to see what changes might be made for second reading.  None of us is bound to support this policy change on second reading.  I am sure there will be plentiful discussion at the next meeting.

Our regular, special and work-session meetings are public meetings.  Our meeting minutes are very complete.

Sent: Friday, September 14, 2012 4:33 PM

Dear Ms Baughn,   The Board Policy that you refer to, that was discussed on first reading, deals with two issues that concern School Board meetings.  The first is an addition to the policy that allows, by law, electronic attendance by a Board Member.  The second was a recommendation that dealt with communication devices.  The Board approved on first reading this statement: “The Board reserves the right to restrict the use of cameras, camcorders, or other photographic equipment that interferes or disrupts a Board meeting”   The key words being reserves, interferes and disrupts. This in no way bans any type of coverage of our meetings.  At our next Board meeting, this policy with have a second reading and I am sure there will be discussion.

Thank you,

Keys Fillauer
Chairman
Oak Ridge Board of Education

From: Trina Baughn
Sent: Friday, September 14, 2012 9:36 PM
To: ‘wkfillauer@comcast.net’

Mr. Fillauer,

My thanks to you, Ms. Agle and Mr. DiGregorio for your responses. While the change in wording certainly sounds less foreboding, one must consider the potential for unintended application down the road. Suppose a future board of lesser integrity were to decide that certain television reporters were disruptive; or that an audience member who is taking pictures with a flash was interfering? The way this policy is proposed to be written (according to your comments), that future board would be well within policy to forbid both the reporter and the audience member from using their devices.

We all agree that transparency is paramount for effective and trustworthy government. I hope that you will all agree that an elected body that empowers itself to pick and choose who and how their public meetings are recorded does not adhere to the basic tenets of transparency.

Respectfully,

Trina  Baughn

P.S. Preventing the public from accessing your meeting minutes before a final vote is taken does not bode well for the spirit of transparency. I hope you will reconsider my request.

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2 thoughts on “A Question of Transparency

  1. Hey Trina,

    When our reporter Susann Czarnecki mentioned this in her story a couple or three weeks ago, I asked her all kinds of questions about it because I had many of the same concerns — and thought perhaps she should emphasize it more in her story.

    In the end, she covered how the discussion went down and made many of the points that were e-mailed into you, so I felt less concerned. I think the School Board members are aware of the sensitivity of this topic.

    Yours,
    Stan

  2. Thanks, Stan. Somehow I missed Susan’s column. I’d be less concerned, I suppose, if the board’s words had aligned with their votes. As someone pointed out to me, why not table the discussion to adjust the wording, especially if most did not agree with it?

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