San Mateo County Community College District officials appeared closely split on a proposal to broadcast videos of board meetings in exchange for keeping limited minutes.
The district Board of Trustees discussed the initiatives during a meeting Wednesday, June 12, when officials weighed the benefits offered through increased transparency against the costs facing the district and other concerns.
While no decision was made at the meeting, some trustees ardently spoke in favor of implementing the technology which could allow for broadcasting and streaming videos of the meetings on the district website.
“I’m a firm believer this is the right thing to be doing,” said Trustee Dave Mandelkern, who said he has advocated for such a proposal for more than one decade.
The initiative was raised simultaneously with a proposal to limit the scope of minutes, or the written record of each meeting, from a current comprehensive format to one largely only tracking board action. Administrators claim in-depth minutes are a burden on staff to craft and are an inefficient way for support personnel to use their time.
Trustee Richard Holober though said he would only consider allowing the minutes format to be altered if officials agree to start to stream and archive meetings, which would allow the videos to fill the gaps left by a limited written record.
Trustee Thomas Nuris held a different position though, favoring the reduced minutes format while opposing broadcasting videos.
Detailing his resistance to installing cameras, Nuris said he served on boards in the past where the presence of recording equipment encouraged grandstanding among his colleagues.
“It changed the dynamic a little bit,” said Nuris, supporting arguments raised in material provided by district administrators detailing the potential pitfalls associated with broadcasting and recording meetings.
Regarding his support for the limited minutes format, Nuris questioned whether such an immersive effort is necessary to track the often mundane nature of the board’s discussions.
For his part, Nuris joined the rest of his fellow trustees in favoring extending the amount of time board audio recordings are kept. The audio files are currently kept for 30 days after the meeting, then destroyed.
Vice President Karen Schwarz too favored limited minute format, as well as the extended life for audio recordings, while suggesting she would be willing to have a larger conversation about meeting video later.
In an attempt to find some common ground among trustees, board President Maurice Goodman directed administrators to extend the amount of time audio recordings are kept while requesting the broadcast and minutes to be brought back at a future meeting. Goodman has previously said he would not support reducing the scope of the minutes without offering a video supplement.
Representatives from the district’s classified and certificated unions both spoke in favor of preserving the current minutes format and supplementing those with video broadcasts. Marie Baldisserie, from the a local chapter of the League of Women Voters, agreed too.
Advocates for broadcasting, recording and archiving noted the ability would also meet the needs of those who wish to be more engaged with the school district but struggle to attend meetings which start in San Mateo at 6 p.m.
Those with reservations, meanwhile, claimed installing the technology could require a significant investment, as a staff report suggested the initiative could cost more than $100,000 for the equipment and staffing. Others noted the opportunity could sync well with the proposal to allow Peninsula TV to move into the former KCSM-TV studio.
Holober though said the district maintains the capacity to install recording equipment regardless of whether the PenTV arrangement comes to fruition, while Mandelkern said more simple and cost-effective technology exists to adopt in the interim.
“I don’t buy the argument that this is hard,” said Mandelkern.
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