Some local governments in Gloucester County have begun to broadcast videos of their township and borough meetings due to the spread of novel coronavirus.
The virus, along with a stay-at-home order and social distancing has made attending local government meetings risky and unfeasible for the average citizen.
In the absence of these videos our local governments would be operating in the dark, without any oversight from the general public.
Unfortunately, with the current state of journalism – technological disruption and underfunding – news reporters, the watchdogs of government, can no longer be relied upon to attend all local government meetings in the areas they supposedly cover.
Recent meetings were handled differently in our local municipalities.
In Deptford the recent meeting was held via teleconference.
In Washington Township a meeting was held using the Zoom conferencing website.
That may not seem like a lot of views, but it’s something to celebrate. Many small towns only have a handful of attendees at a meeting.
The virus has raised some important questions we should be asking our local governments.
Why have our elected leaders not recorded meetings sooner?
Will elected leaders continue to record meetings in the future after this pandemic has passed?
After all, local governments have always had this ability – video recording is nothing new – but some governments chose not to broadcast their meetings.
The fact of the matter is politicians do not like to be recorded.
It’s not because they are corrupt villains like Frank Underwood on “House of Cards.” The vast majority are just community-oriented folks trying to improve their townships and boroughs.
No, the reason is because, like most people, they speak with candor and don’t like having video cameras pointed at their face.
They’re human and make foolish, silly mistakes.
They sometimes say off-color jokes.
They sometimes change their minds on divisive political matters, making for a great “gotcha moment.”
They sometimes pass gas. This happened recently in a viral video. The Mayor of Georgetown went to the bathroom and forgot his microphone was still on; The video was viewed hundreds of thousands of times.
These mistakes are immortalized forever on the internet if a camera is present.
Those of us who have been attending government meetings for years know that meetings minutes – which provide a public record on votes and summarizes what our local government officials say – are often not released for weeks after a meeting took place.
The public should not have to wait weeks or months to know what was said in a public meeting.
This type of record keeping system was appropriate in the past, but it’s currently outdated and is no longer as transparent as a video recording.
A video recording allows citizens to watch a meeting, taking in the information first-hand and not through an intermediary like a news reporter or neighbor, and it allows the public to do this in the comfort of their home.
After all, not everyone is able to attend government meetings due to something as simple as scheduling or as serious as a health condition, which makes travel difficult.
Moving forward, local governments no longer have a legitimate excuse.
We live in the 21st century where any teenager with a cellphone can figure out how to upload a Youtube video. It’s not an overwhelming burden; It’s not a technological feat to live stream or record a government meeting.
Local governments who have begun to video record their meetings should be applauded. After all, keeping the public informed about local matters should be one of their goals.
Once life returns to normalcy,s the public should encourage its town councils and school boards to do the right thing:
Record all public meetings and post them online in a timely manner.
But the public should also cut their neighborhood politician some slack if a harmless, yet embarrassing, moment is caught on camera.