It's Public Service, Says Michigan Woman Who Films Meetings

"The best way to get the community involved is to give them access to the meetings," Patterson said. "If me volunteering my time helps other people to get involved, that makes me happy. It's my civic duty."

by Sheri McWhirter, The Record-Eagle / November 27, 2018

(TNS) — Jeni Patterson often can be found at Kalkaska village meetings, a fully charged iPhone in her hand she uses to broadcast video of the public meetings online.

It's not a job. It's a public service, she said.

"The best way to get the community involved is to give them access to the meetings," Patterson said. "If me volunteering my time helps other people to get involved, that makes me happy. It's my civic duty."

Patterson attended most of the village's public meetings during the last year to record video and livestream it to the social media site Facebook under a page titled Kalkaska Public Meetings. It's a function of the local nonprofit organization Kalkaska For Peace, for which Patterson serves as the community involvement committee chairperson.

"Members of our community are expected to attend all meetings to stay informed but it is nearly impossible to be physically present at all meetings ... Folks who are working, disabled or lacking transportation can still take part in a very basic way by watching the videos at their own convenience," said Lauren Clark, treasurer for Kalkaska For Peace. "I wish there were 20 more Jenis."

Patterson attends three or four public meetings each week and said she plans to spend about an hour on each. Some committee meetings are far shorter, while some council meetings run much longer, she said.

The idea to record video originated last year when village leadership remained under the former president Jeff Sieting, who was recalled by voters in August. There were a lot of things said during public meetings which most in the public never knew about, but that has now changed, Patterson said.

"By having these meetings online, there have been things said that ended up meaning people had to be accountable for what they said and that didn't always happen before," Patterson said.

For example, Patterson said one member of the Kalkaska Downtown Development Authority stepped down in recent months after being heavily criticized after making disparaging comments about a popular local business.

"It's taken some people some getting used to the implications of social media," Patterson said. "The words that you say when you are a representative, well, you need to be accountable for those words."

Patterson said she keeps her own opinions and comments about village business to herself and attends the meetings as an impartial observer, or recorder.

Crystal Spencer said she attends many of the village meetings and Patterson's videos have improved transparency among village government. Another benefit is local residents don't have to learn about village news from a second-hand account, Spencer said.

Village President Harley Wales said he's thrilled Patterson attends and records video of so many public meetings.

"I'm extremely pleased she does it," Wales said. "It's really gotten the whole community involved in the civic process."

Not only are Patterson's videos available to be watched online at anyone's convenience, Wales said, but she's gained an incredible response from her actions with some of her videos having more than 1,000 views.

"It shows there's a true interest in it," Wales said.

In fact, the village president said he's looking into whether the village can invest in video equipment and begin recording and broadcasting the public meetings.

Not everyone in Kalkaska supports the Kalkaska For Peace organization and its mission to work toward an inclusive community that promotes educational opportunities and political engagement. That doesn't mean they aren't watching the organization's videos, Patterson said.

"Even the naysayers are taking advantage of the free service we are offering. It's democracy in action," she said.

©2018 The Record-Eagle (Traverse City, Mich.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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