GREENFIELD – After a heated conversation between its members, the School Committee voted to direct the administration to “make reasonable efforts” to record subcommittee meetings, and to adopt a practice for reading a script at the start of meetings – in accordance with Open Meeting Law – that asks if anyone else in the audience intends to record.
The votes last week followed a meeting in March, during which School Committee members voted to send a discussion on recording subcommittee meetings to its Policy and Program Subcommittee, in favor of establishing a policy for how meetings will be recorded moving forward.
“In reflecting on our role as a policy subcommittee and as a School Committee, it’s not within our responsibilities to set procedures for the district,” explained School Committee member Glenn Johnson-Mussad, chair of the Policy and Program Subcommittee. “That lies with the superintendent.”
To that end, the subcommittee consulted with Superintendent Christine DeBarge on the options available for recording those meetings, as it does for full committee meetings.
“I was able to speak with (Executive Director Nick Ring) from GCTV (Greenfield Community Television) to talk about options we have for video recording, where we could use some of their equipment… and record,” DeBarge said. “The challenge is if for some reason, all the lendable equipment they had was occupied. He did not think that would be a consistent problem, but it could occur. ”
Staff could also record audio of meetings using their phones, which GCTV would be able to upload to the GCTV YouTube channel, at least until the meeting minutes have been posted.
“I believe this is doable within our current staffing pattern,” DeBarge told committee members.
Some committee members, in particular Chair Amy Proietti, found it unclear as to whether the recommendation required a vote to ensure recording would happen.
“I will do what’s needed as directed by the committee,” DeBarge responded.
Proietti also did not feel as though any progress had been made since the last meeting in terms of developing a procedure.
“We went to the superintendent and said, ‘This looks like it’s outside our realm – it’s not our job to develop plans for how you implement practices like this,'” Johnson-Mussad said. “We made sure the language was ‘reasonable efforts’ we’re asking (the administration) to make.”
He added that the policy subcommittee does not have the authority on its own to direct the administration; that authority comes from the full School Committee.
“Previous committees have put all kinds of procedures and practices into the policy manual and we’re not going to do that,” Johnson-Mussad said. “We’re bringing it back to you as a recommended direction to the administration, not as a policy.”
School Committee member Elizabeth Deneve noted that Proietti was at the March 31 meeting where this was discussed. Proietti clarified that was the meeting she left before it ended, as materials hadn’t been provided the requisite three days in advance, per School Committee policy. Later in the meeting, when member Kate Martini said she wasn’t familiar with one of the materials referenced, Proietti said it was likely because it was added that afternoon.
Ultimately, Proietti was the sole dissenting vote. Members Susan Eckstrom, Johnson-Mussad, Martini, Deneve and Jean Wall voted “yes” to directing the administration to make reasonable efforts to record future subcommittee meetings.
The subcommittee also recommended the full committee adopt a practice for reading a script at the start of each meeting that informs the audience when a meeting is being recorded by the district or GCTV, and to ask if anyone else is doing so.
There was some disagreement over whether Johnson-Mussad’s motion constituted a policy.
“I don’t have a problem with this being said,” Eckstrom said. “However, the policy subcommittee exists to develop policy and review policy. I do not see policies here. ”
Johnson-Mussad said he viewed the motion on the table – to adopt a practice for reading a script at the start of meetings – as a recommended practice. Deneeve and Johnson-Mussad noted that it is required under the Open Meeting Law for the chair of a meeting to inform the public if anyone present is recording.
“We do not always create policies that duplicate things that are already present in state law, such as the ability of members of the public to record, and the obligation of chairs of meetings to let people know when things are being recorded,” he said. “This is a recommended procedure that the committee adopts in order to fulfill the Open Meeting Law.”
Still, Proietti did not agree it was necessary. Per legal advice, she said, the committee is only required to inform the audience that GCTV is recording.
“From my perspective, I do not have a problem with this, but it seems like a colossal waste of the subcommittees’ and the full committee’s time,” Proietti said. “If you want to come up to me, Glenn, and say, ‘Don’t forget to say we need a recording announcement,’ I’d be happy to do that.”
Proietti and Eckstrom ultimately voted “no,” while Johnson-Mussad, Martini, Deneve and Wall voted “yes” to adopt a practice for reading a script at the start of meetings, asking whether anyone in the audience is recording.
Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at [email protected] or 413-930-4429. Twitter: aryMaryEByrne