Harsh! Sandra Ramsay Doesn't Want YOU to easily know what happens at Glen Rose City Meetings

Re: audio recordings for the benefit of informed citizens

Harsh! Sandra Ramsay Doesn't Want YOU to easily know what happens at Glen Rose City Meetings

15 February 2017 at 1:35:20 PM

This is quite astonishing. I never thought I would hear ANY elected government official say this type of thing regarding recording meetings so that those who cannot (or simply, don't) attend have little or no opportunity in the future to hear what happened at a government meeting without an extra burden, where none need be.

Here is the context. Mike Jones had requested the following agenda item for the meeting on Feb 13, 2017.

  1. Discussion, consideration and possible action regarding the approval of best effort or mandatory recording of all City meetings and posting to City’s website.  (Councilmember Jones)

Council members discussed this from several perspectives, for example, what is legally required, what meetings are recorded, should there be a policy or practice regarding putting recorded meetings (to include all city meetings, GREDC, CVB, P&Z, etc) on the city website, etc. Terri Johnson, the new City Secretary, pointed out that the minutes that one can peruse after the fact, once voted on and approved, are mostly action items. That is, they don't show the discussion, why council people voted the way they did, any audience comments. Audio that is recorded is done via a digital recorder, creating mp3 files which are reasonably small in size and can be uploaded for all to hear or download via the city website. 

One would think that, since it is citizens that elect representatives and government is supposed to be the servant of the people, rather than the master, that all would be happy to have audio made available that is reasonably easy for citizens to access, without adding a burden. Nope, according to Sandra Ramsay. 

The following is edited for brevity. The full video from the entire meeting will be uploaded if you wish to watch the entire thing.

Rough Transcript

Ramsay: My personal feeling is that there are minutes on there that we took action on and if you want to hear the recording, there's nothing wrong with getting in your car, driving down to city hall, presenting the open records act , putting on the headset and listen to the minutes. I dont think that the recording should be on the website. I totally disagree. I have never had a problem, I don't know of anyone, I do know of one person that's had an issue and that was with the prior secretary of not being able to get the tapes.

Ms Ramsay apparently does not realize that the city has not used tape for recordings (ie cassette players)  for years, but, during when Peggy Busch was secretary, got a digital recorder to create digital mp3 files. 

We have a new secretary who is totally trained and knows how to handle and knows what the laws is of what we have to put on the website. I don't feel that we need to mandate that the recording be on there. The minutes, the actions take place, yes I feel that they need to be on there, but if you're that interested to know what's said, you need to come down to City Hall and hear. 

... To add to that, anyone's invited to workshops. The workshops are not just for council. We had a citizen at the workshop so .. and they're posted.  So.. you're got to make some effort, too. 

... You talk about time.  It's going to take time to stop and get it uploaded, get everything to put on the computer. So it's a 2-edged sword 

This is not 10 years ago. Consider the task of recording and uploading to the internet. Assuming that one can punch a record button, has a flash/SIM card to record the information, and that the audio records properly, it is then a matter of only a few minutes to upload a digital file to the city website. For example, doesn't pretty much everyone nowadays know how to take a picture or video with a smart phone camera and upload it to Facebook? It is not an absurdly lengthy and onerous process to upload a file for the benefit of the public. 

Mike Jones: Where is the recording stored right now? 

Terri Johnson: In my desk

Mike Jones: Is it a tape?

Terri Johnson: It's a flash card.

Mayor: As I understand and have used recordings during the meeting, the minutes are not an exact transcript of  what is said in the meeting. The recordings have been utilized as a backup because often times people will speak and they can't be heard and you'll have to listen to the word a couple of times to hear what they said, you'll get overtalk, and I'd like to bring the city secretary in on this. 

The issue here, I believe, is how one perceives the purpose of recording audio/video. If you believe it is only for the purpose of creating an accurate minutes record, that is one thing. If, however, you ALSO see it as being something for open information for the public, then it is quite another. As a side note, seems like if an audio is not clear, it is incumbent procedurally to be sure that all city council people speak into their microphones and it should also be quite easy to cable the digital recorder into the sound system to cut out all the back noise. 

Terri Johnson: Our minutes are action minutes.  There will be a lot of information on the audio that are not included in the minutes because we do action meetings 

Citizen Comment: D Harper:  I just want to make a couple of points about this. One is that all the meetings and putting all the council meetings have not been recorded in the last couple of years just because of transitions of secretaries and so forth. So while the regular sessions have been recorded,  special sessions have not, so I would like to see all of them being recorded.  For the second point, just about every entity in Somervell County puts audio or video online. And I don't disagree with what Sandra Ramsay says about people making efforts, I mean, I think that's a good thing to make efforts, sometimes people can't do that though, they may be working, there may be other reasons why they cannot come and hear and to me the purpose of good government is so that any citizen can have the opportunity to find out what their government is doing thru, even if it's just 90 days being available, whatever, that's fine, but for those 90 days I think it should be available on the internet so that somebody can listen to it and whatever happens to it after that is a choice of archiving the records and keeping them. But in the meantime, the city is almost an outlier at this point by requiring it to be so much effort to go and hear something when its very easy matter with training to have the city secretary to put it on the internet for all to be able to get to. 

Ramsay: The ones I've listened to have always been in here. ..

Mayor If the council does decide to do it, there clearly needs to be a limitation time that it's up there and once we hit that 90 day point which is the standard destruction of the record, it needs to >>> down.

I think it is a mistake to insist that meeting audio can only be available for 90 days and then destroyed. Sometimes, in my own interest in government dealings, I will hear an item brought up in a different meeting, without context, because it was discussed previously, and it's great to be able to go back and hear what was said originally about the item. There may be a rule that says audio MUST be up for 90 days but there is no rule that says it MUST be deleted after 90 days. If you compare with all the other Somervell County entities that have audio, they generally have years of audio available, or at least the last year. Somervell County Hospital District even has video on their Youtube channel so you can watch previous meetings. I believe someone needs to bring up and ask the City why it is to determined NOT to keep an archive of audio for citizens to hear. 

MayorAnd it it's posted up there, can it be copied? 

Is it REALLY a concern that a public meeting that has been lawfully recorded might be copied and shared among others? If so, then the person who is potentially upset about others hearing the meeting need to be asked why they are concerned. 

Terri Johnson: I haven't been trained on the website, I don't think it could be. 

Ramsay: They can save it and then share. 

Mayor( about what if the minutes say one thing and the audio another)

Terri Johnson: Well, the motion, second and result is pretty clear and that's what the minutes reflect... I"m not worried about the discrepancy. .. I have answered open records requests and sent copies of the audio to people. 

Putting a fine point on that last, one CANNOT insist that citizens MUST come in to listen in city chambers to an audio. Anyone doing an open records/public information request can either get the audio on CD or have it emailed. It is, however, one last repetitive step the city secretary or whoever uploads to the website has to do.

Ms Ramsay did not address the fact that not all of the meetings are even recorded in the first place, so that if anyone wanted to get in their car and come down to listen, that person would be unable to hear because the recordings do not exist. 

Have to wonder why ANY elected official would not want any citizen at any time to know what is said? Is it really REQUIRED that anyone that wants to know what goes on in a city meeting MUST BE THERE in attendance or they're out of luck? What if someone works during those hours or wants to come but has the flu or there is a school or church event going on at the same time? What if someone realizes, after the fact, that something that was discussed during the meeting directly affected him or her and s/he wants to listen to what happened? Supppose the local newspaper doesn't happen to attend that particular meeting so there's nothing about it in the newspaper? 

It is HARSH to say that a person that wants to know at any time what is going on at the government level should have dang well been at the meeting. 

Ms Ramsay also doesn't understand how public information requests work. Anyone that wants to do a request for the audio to come on CD or via email can do so. It is not required for someone to come in and listen to an audio at City Hall, although certainly a person could if he or she wanted. (Again, this was the case some years back when meetings, which included at that point ALL meetings, were recorded on cassette tape, and to listen, one needed to come hang out for an hour or two; that's simply not true with digital files). What if the person that wants to listen works during the week and can't come in during city hall hours? What if the person is in a wheelchair or otherwise disabled but wants to be a good, informed citizen? Further, it is much more efficient for the person who handles the audio, presumably the city secretary, to upload the audio to the city website, making it available to listen to via a link or to download; that way, if more than one person wants to hear the audio, the work of putting it on the website has been done once and can be accessed multiple times by multiple people. 

From the Texas Public Information Act preamble.

Sec. 552.001. POLICY; CONSTRUCTION. (a) Under the fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of representative government that adheres to the principle that government is the servant and not the master of the people, it is the policy of this state that each person is entitled, unless otherwise expressly provided by law, at all times to complete information about the affairs of government and the official acts of public officials and employees. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created. The provisions of this chapter shall be liberally construed to implement this policy.

(b) This chapter shall be liberally construed in favor of granting a request for information.

Here was City councilman Robert Marquez comment's on the audio, which I quite agree with




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