After backlash, Atwater Township will continue taping meetings

Atwater Town Hall. Lyndsey Brennan/The Portager

Atwater trustees are considering changing their decision to pull the plug on meeting livestreams after an outcry from residents.

Township Trustee Thora Green said the meetings will still not be livestreamed, but they will likely be accessible a day or two later via a link that will be posted on the township’s webpage.

Calling livestreams of their meetings a Covid-era courtesy, trustees had voted 2-1 on July 11 to turn the cameras off.

Trustee Charlie Harris cast the dissenting vote, saying his colleagues should welcome the few extra steps it takes to let everyone see what’s going on in the township. “It costs nothing,” he said.

Trustee John Kovacich, though, said the expense of hiring someone to set the recording equipment up, maintain it, and provide troubleshooting services, “was just cumbersome.”

Green objected to the comments people left on the livestream feed, saying trustees lacked the ability to respond. If people had something to say, they could attend the meetings in person, she and Kovacich agreed.

The trustees were also at a loss as to how they should retain the livestreams, or even if they could, under public records laws.

Atwater Township’s Facebook page lit up when trustees published their intent to end the livestreams.

Several residents expressed their disappointment, with one asking what the trustees are trying to hide. Another wrote that she welcomed the livestreams as she is physically unable to attend the meetings.

Livestreaming the trustee meetings “is a service that costs nothing and benefits the entire community,” Dave Brannon wrote. “It is also a way to look back at previous meetings and compare what is said and what is recorded in the minutes.”

Brannon said residents needed to attend the next trustee meeting “in force” to show township leaders “this is not something we approve of.” That comments got a thumbs up from another resident.

Green said about 10 people attended the July 25 trustee meeting, and the few who spoke all said they relied on the livestreams as they could not attend trustee meetings in person. Their presence underscored what Green called the primary reason she pulled the livestream plug.

“You cannot interact with people on a Facebook page,” she said. The Ohio townships were set up with having this type of government where the people come and keep informed. I understand in this day and age with all this new technology, it’s gotten easy to sit back and look at it the other way, but yet you need that good interaction with people.”

With videos, “You can’t listen to them and respond and they can’t listen to you and respond. I feel that’s a very important part of what and how to help your constituents the best,” she said.

Green also expressed concern that Facebook owns the videos once they are posted, and anything could be done with them.

Atwater’s webpage will include a link to a newly created YouTube channel trustees are even now creating, Harris said, noting that the channel will only air township meetings, and people will not be able to post their comments.

“I definitely think the people want to see what’s going on. I think this is a step in the right direction,” he said. “If people have comments they can call individual trustees or come to the next meeting.”

Both he and Green are waiting for the county prosecutor’s office to review Atwater’s new policy regarding social media and airing meetings. No word on when the videos will start being posted, though both trustees expect early September might be a goal.

Even with the videos on the township’s webpage, the trustees’ approved minutes will remain the official meeting record, Green said.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.