BY MICHELLE MERLIN
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Elected officials at Northwestern Michigan College “don’t see a need” to electronically record their meetings.
The NMC Board of Trustees Policy Committee will recommend NMC’s board not videotape, televise, or otherwise keep an electronic record of board meetings. Committee members opposed electronic recording because they said most other state community colleges do not do so.
Committee members contend the fact that no constituents talked to them about the issue showed there was no reason to do so.
“Since I’ve been on the board, there’s been no one; I’ve not received a single call or letter, and the president’s office tells me the only entity pushing this is the Record-Eagle,” said Board of Trustees Chair Doug Bishop. “I don’t see a need for it, and I also believe the public meetings provide a very good forum for people to come personally and listen to what we have to say.”
No members of the public attended Tuesday’s 9:30 a.m. meeting.
Board members considered recording meetings after the college spent around $80,000 dollars on a failed special August election for a millage request. School officials said they could not remember whether putting the issue on the regular November ballot — for free — had been discussed at an April meeting and they and the public had no electronic records to review.
Committee members considered several recording options, ranging from implementing the same video recording system Traverse City Area Public Schools for a one-time cost of $35,000 with additional annual maintenance to working with UpNorth Media for $7,200 a year.
Policy Committee Chair Cheryl Gore Follette asked 28 community colleges across the state whether their trustees record meetings. She discovered that Grand Rapids Community College conducts live broadcasts of meetings, and Oakland Community College video-records meetings but doesn’t broadcast them. Seven colleges audio record meetings to help transcribe them later, according to information Gore Follette presented.
“I was surprised to see that there were so many community colleges and colleges that even if they chose to audio-record, didn’t make it available to the public and it was strictly for recordation of the event,” committee member Susan Sheldon said.
But the NMC board is the minority of public boards in Grand Traverse County. County boards, Traverse City Area Public Schools, Traverse City government, and several townships record and televise public meetings.
“What they’re doing is they’re not being as transparent as they could be,” said Joe VanderMeulen, the executive director of the Land Information Access Association, who operates the UpNorth Media Center. “We know that people cannot come to all the meetings. There are people who are home bound and people who are just plain busy and can’t get to meetings.”
Gore Follette said the committee could reconsider its position if there’s a demonstrated need in the future. The committee’s opinion likely be presented to the full board at its Jan. 27 meeting after 5 p.m.