Atwater trustees kill meeting livestreams in 2-1 vote over objections that ‘it costs nothing’

Atwater Town Hall. Lyndsey Brennan/The Portager

Atwater trustees have hit the pause button on their Facebook livestream feed, perhaps permanently.

Trustees voted 2-1 on July 11 to end the twice-monthly feed, with Trustee John Kovacich calling it “a courtesy we came up with during Covid.” The feed is no longer needed, he said.

“People should be able to come to meetings now on their own,” he said. “We’ll have it in case something else, some other catastrophe, happens. If people want to come to our meetings, that’s more than fine.”

People watching the videos left comments in a sidebar on the Facebook feed, said Trustee Thora Green, who worried about this kind of engagement.

“We can never address any questions that are livestreamed. That’s the biggest thing,” Green said. “When there’s comments made or whatever, they’re not addressed here. We don’t have a chance to address those questions. I realize for some people it’s easier just to do that, but yet coming here allows for the interaction with the residents of Atwater.”

Kovacich and Green also were at a loss as to how the recordings, the comments, and recordings reposted elsewhere must be preserved, as the law requires. The trustees’ official record would be the approved minutes, Kovacich said, but electronic records were a mystery attorneys might better solve.

“Any comments under our live feed have to be kept for records retention,” Green suggested.

The Portager could not reach the Portage County Prosecutor’s Office, or the Ohio Township Association, both of which advise townships on legal matters, in time for this article.

Trustee Charlie Harris, who voted against ending the livestream feed, said the cost is minimal and legally preserving the recordings is as easy as downloading them onto a flash drive.

Though he agreed that people have the option to attend public meetings, he recognized that not everyone can.

“You’re leaving people with kids out of the loop. Elderly people that aren’t technically sick, but they don’t get around as good, you’re leaving them out. And a lot of people have busy lives. They work night shift, they work second shift, and they can’t always make it. You can’t always make it to a public meeting,” he said.

Instead of curtailing access, Harris said township trustees should welcome the few extra steps it takes to allow everyone to see what’s going on in Atwater.

“This is a free way that you can always see what’s going on in the community. It costs nothing,” he said.

He said he would try to encourage his colleagues to bring back the Facebook feed.

Atwater resident Dave Brannon said he started relying on the Facebook feed after increased interest in the Atwater trustees following the November 2021 election.

Any costs the township incurred for livestreaming were covered years ago, he said.

“If they don’t want comments on the Facebook page, they can turn the comments off. If they don’t want it on Facebook, they have a web page for the township. They have an IT guy. They can have him put it on the webpage. It costs nothing,” he said.

Brannon likened loss of live streaming to CSPAN shutting down. The scale isn’t the same, but the loss of transparency is, he said.

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