Rochester, Minn., to Provide Video Records of City Meetings

The city’s 21 boards and commissions will soon have an additional layer of public oversight after officials elected to buy three portable video recording devices and computer tablets.

by Randy Petersen, Post-Bulletin / May 1, 2019

(TNS) — Meetings held by all of Rochester, Minn.’s 21 city boards and commissions are expected to be video recorded by July.

It might not make for must-see TV for the average person, but it is vital viewing for those interested in local government transparency.

“I think this a very good first step,” Rochester City Council Member Michael Wojcik said Monday of the plan.

Currently, only the City Council and Rochester Planning and Zoning Commission meetings are recorded with video. Several others post audio recordings, while some only post written minutes to show what actions were taken.

In January, the council asked city staff to look into creating video records of all meetings, as well as taking other steps to increase public access to meetings and information.

The request came after former Mayor Ardell Brede vetoed a 2017 plan to spend $25,000 on video equipment to record meetings held in room 104 of City Hall.

On Monday, Jenna Bowman, the city’s communications and engagement manager, outlined several steps to fulfill the latest request.

The city plans to purchase three portable video recording devices and computer tablets, to record meetings in several locations. Each package will cost an estimated $1,500.

Bowman said some meeting schedules will likely be adjusted to have the majority of meetings in room 104 of City Hall, where a mounted camera will be installed. Meetings in other locations would use portable cameras.

Bowman said the July goal gives staff time to reschedule meeting times and locations, when needed, since some schedules overlap.

Council President Randy Staver questioned whether a slower approach might be prudent, suggesting that recording meetings of the Committee on Urban Design and Environment, the Energy Commission and some other boards might be too much.

“I think transparency can be viewed as a double-edged sword,” he said, noting the amount of information posted could overwhelm the casual observer.

Additionally, he suggested an overabundance of information could “hide” important details that members of the public might overlook.

“Transparency in practice, I think, means striking a balance,” he said. “We should certainly seek to educate, inform the public and certainly not hide information, but I think we should do so in a way that doesn’t inundate and overwhelm the public.”

The majority of the council indicated support for moving forward with plans to record video from all meetings.

While the new equipment will record video, Bowman said it will not allow for livestreaming through the city’s existing software. Instead, she said, the city will be able to provide a live feed through one of several existing online formats, including Facebook or YouTube.

Council Member Nick Campion indicated he’d support such an option as long as the use is consistent.

“Duplicating it on an external service makes a lot of sense,” he said, noting the online technology would offer advantages.

The discussion follows a technological glitch last week, which left the recording of a special council work session regarding the Chateau Theatre without sound for several days, before the recording was eventually posted on YouTube. The city’s website recording was also fixed Monday.

City Administrator Steve Rymer said council support will spur efforts to move forward. City staff will return to the council for approval of required purchases and any other needs.

“We have a two-month period, so we have to get going right away,” Rymer said.

©2019 the Post-Bulletin. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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