Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 27, 2013

Newsmakers: NMC to discuss taped meetings

BY ANNE STANTON astanton@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — EDITOR’S NOTE: Newsmakers 2013 profiles people, places and events that made news in the Grand Traverse region during the past year.

TRAVERSE CITY — Elected officials at Northwestern Michigan College will consider next month whether to electronically record their board meetings, a standard practice among major government bodies in Grand Traverse County.

A policy committee last discussed the question in October with members offering mostly positive comments, but expressing concerns about cost. The committee also will consider what other community and four-year colleges are doing before delivering a recommendation to the board, said board Chairman Doug Bishop.

Committee members also discussed the intended purpose. Bishop said board meetings are “very accessible” and there is value in having people show up at meetings to speak.

“If I thought there was a need, I’d be happy to do it. We don’t have anything to hide and that’s pretty obvious. But I question whether people are really interested,” said Susan Sheldon, NMC board secretary.

But NMC Board Trustee Bill Myers, who doesn’t sit on the policy committee, said he supports the idea, particularly in light of recent efforts to put NMC more squarely in the public eye. The endeavor to raise awareness followed NMC’s resounding millage request defeat in August.

“From my perspective, it’s a logical next step,” Myers said. “We should be doing it. It supports our other activities of letting the public know about all the good things we’re doing at NMC, the issues we face and how we make decisions.”

Cost shouldn’t be a significant issue, said Joe VanderMeulen, who oversees UpNorth Media Center, which cablecasts government agency meetings on its public access channels. That’s because NMC has its own cable access channel, video equipment, and a visual communications program that could potentially provide training, he said.

UpNorth Media officials suggested a joint intern program, offering support and video training for a small fee, along with real-world experience, including recording on-campus meetings. NMC could pay the interns as a sort of work study, VanderMeulen said.

“They have staff that can do this, they already have the cameras; it’s just not that hard,” he said. “This really is a question of priorities.”

Vicki Cook, NMC’s vice president of finance and administration, presented a few options and estimated costs at October’s policy committee meeting. They ranged from implementing TCAPS’ recording system at $35,000 annually; to live broadcasting at $47,000 to $55,000 annually; to having UpNorth Media do the job for $7,200 each year.

Cook said she also presented UpNorth Media’s joint intern proposal, but said it still has to be discussed with NMC’s audio tech staff.

She told committee members that audio recording the meetings would cost significantly less.

Bishop said at the meeting that there may be some value to an audio recording until minutes are approved. Currently, written minutes are posted on the NMC website.

The Grand Traverse County Board Commission once hotly debated the same issue before agreeing to a cablecast in the face of a potential lawsuit. Commissioner Herb Lemcool now regards the public access cablecast as a “fabulous tool to keep people in the loop and knowing what’s going on in our community.”

Concerns expressed in the past include whether a video camera would stifle open debate or attract folks showing up just to seek out the TV limelight.

David Poinsett, who sits on UpNorth Media’s advisory committee, said he appreciates the “creative value of uninhibited brainstorming.” But he pointed out that written minutes can leave out important details that a video recording can fully capture.

“It’s not about playing ‘gotcha.’ It’s about public institutions and elected officials being as transparent and widely accessible as possible,” he said.