TRAVERSE CITY — The Northwestern Michigan College board voted to request a new policy that would require video recordings of its meetings and make them available online.
The board motion went only so far. It didn’t ask for meetings to appear on cable television like those of other area government bodies.
The vote went against the recommendation of the policy committee, which nixed the idea of recorded meetings last week after hearing that only nine of 28 community colleges record their meetings. They also said the public hadn’t expressed any interest.
“Up until that meeting, I had not received one single call, and that is atypical of anything of major importance,” said Doug Bishop, a policy committee member and board chairman.
Bishop said he’s had several calls since that Jan. 20 meeting, both pro and con.
Board member Bill Myers presented the motion at Monday’s board meeting after hearing the subcommittee’s recommendation.
The motion instructed the policy committee to develop a new policy that implements video recording and an online archival system that can be deployed no later than the board’s April 28 meeting.
The board unanimously approved the motion. Bishop said that board member Bob Brick, who couldn’t attend the meeting, was also in favor. The motion received little discussion other than the timeline and reaching an informal agreement to keep video recordings online for two years.
“It’s just time to do it. It’s the right thing to do,” said Myers, explaining his views after the meeting. “It’s consistent with the goal of community engagement and all we’re doing to make the public aware of all the good things we’re getting done at NMC. … Yes, a member of the public can come to the meetings, but making it more accessible is a good thing, especially in a county that’s this large and in weather like today when you don’t want to drive.”
The vote came as a surprise to attorney Peter Zirnhelt, who spoke prior to the motion. He told the board that the policy committee’s decision was inconsistent with NMC’s goal of getting its message out to the public.
“The way you get your message out is by giving people an opportunity to see this meeting in action,” he said. “The fact that seven or eight colleges are the only ones in the state (that record meetings) should have no meaning in this decision.”
He told the board that the Record-Eagle’s support for recorded meetings shouldn’t be viewed as a negative.
“It’s in your best interest to do that. When you’re not getting millages approved you should say, ‘What can I do to get our message out to our constituents?’” he said, referring to NMC’s failed millage vote in August. “Apparently you have an audio department that could easily record your minutes and send them out to Up North Media or somehow get it out in the community. Apparently, it would be a good teaching tool besides, as I see it, for your students.”
NMC President Tim Nelson said that NMC has access to a cable TV station, but no technology is set up for a live broadcast — a task made more difficult because the board meets on more than one campus.
To meet the April deadline, the policy committee would have to bring the first reading before the board in February. But Cheryl Gore Follette, the policy committee chair, said she won’t be able to attend February’s meeting and asked to push back the deadline.
“It would be a bummer to do the work and not vote on it and not be part of the conversation,” she said, referring to the February meeting.
But Myers said he didn’t think the request was “that complex.” The board agreed to postpone the date if necessary.
Zirnhelt said after the meeting that he would have preferred the board agree to televise meetings.
“This doesn’t get to the point—my goal was they need to get their message across. You’re forcing someone to go online to get the information,” he said.