Next 5 Greensboro town hall meetings won’t be televised
Mayor Nancy Vaughan said the July, August, September, October and November town hall meetings of the Greensboro City Council would not be streamed live or made available as online videos.
Three hours and 32 minutes into the June 4 council meeting, Vaughan made the following announcement:
“Starting our first town hall meeting in July, we’re going to change the structure a little bit. We’ve all been talking about what we can do to get out into the community to make these meetings more accessible, and we had thought that we would do district meetings, so we’re going to start with District 1, and it will be at the Ruth Wicker Memorial to Women, which is a beautiful building over by Barber Park.” She explained that the first meeting of each of the next five months would be held in a different district.
“And those meetings will not be televised, because they are going to be in libraries or city buildings that don’t have the ability to televise.”
After Vaughan described the planned change in locations, City Manager David Parrish noted that the meeting at the Wicker Memorial would be on Monday, July 8, rather than Tuesday, July 9. He said that this was “the only time we could find for the Ruth Wicker [building],” as it was booked for another event that Tuesday.
The first city council meeting of each month has, for the past few years, been in town hall format, which allows “unlimited public comment.” For the past seven months, a substantial portion of that public comment has been from those protesting the death of Marcus Deon Smith, whose family is presently suing the city over his fatal hog-tying by the Greensboro Police Department.
On Feb. 2, the council debated enforcing “civility” on those speaking (for shouting) from the audience during meetings. On April 2, the Rev. David Kennedy led a packed audience in a song denouncing Scott as “that lying racist” and calling for his resignation or dismissal. Two weeks later, the mayor ordered protestors removed from the meeting at which the council announced that, due to the Smith family’s lawsuit, the city was tabling an independent investigation into Smith’s death.
On Friday, I asked Mayor Vaughan about a Rhino Times article alleging some city council members believed that “the same people who have now been coming to meetings for over a year speaking about the same topics and being disruptive won’t bother to come if they aren’t going to be on television.” In that article, editor and writer John Hammer speculated that this “off the record stated belief” was the “main reason” the meetings were being moved.
Vaughan responded to my query with the following statement:
“It is our hope that, by being more accessible in a neighborhood environment, more people will be encouraged to share their interests or concerns. Since the recent implementation of the ‘Code of Conduct,’ speakers and council members have been able to complete their comments in a more respectful environment. People who are dedicated to a cause will continue to engage the council regardless of the location.”
I asked Vaughan if the benefits of the change in venues were worth the public not being able to watch the meetings streaming or on recorded video. She responded by texting the following: “I have spoken before the legislature about issues that are important to the city. Those meetings aren’t televised. I think people who feel strongly about an issue will still come and speak. We can always review the format after the first round.”
On June 12, Roch Smith, founder, and owner of Greensboro101.com sent mayor Vaughan and City of Greensboro community and marketing director Carla Banks an email pointing out that the city “regularly produces videos ‘on location’ and touts its remote production capabilities on its website.”
In his email, which was cc’d to several local journalists (and which, as correspondence with city officials, is a public document), Smith wrote, “If the intention is not to suppress exposure of these meetings, can the City not stream and record them too at the remote locations?” Furthermore, he asked, “If the answer is no, would the City entertain proposals to hire a third-party to stream and record these remote meetings?”
Banks was the first to respond with, “GTN has the capability to capture video on-location, but at the direction of Mayor Vaughan, the meetings will not be videotaped for future broadcast.”
Mayor Vaughan then responded. “No, that direction did not come from me. My statement at the city council meeting, with regard to televising the remote meetings, was based on consultation with the city manager’s office. Recording off-site requires a different level of staff involvement. There will be an audio recording and minutes of those meetings. It is our hope that by being more assessable in a neutral neighborhood environment, more people will be encouraged to share their interests or concerns. Our chambers are designed to record and capture city council business meetings, which we will continue to do so.”
To which Smith asked, “So GTN [Greensboro Television Network] is free to video these meetings then? There is no prohibition or directive for them not to do so?”
As of 9 a.m. Monday, there was no reply from Banks or Vaughan.
Smith asked if the next five town hall meetings will “have facilities for speakers to make electronic presentations (video, illustrations, PowerPoint, etc.), the way that we can at City Hall?”
Banks’ responded that “A/V equipment would not be supplied,” as a projector “will only be available when staff makes a presentation.”
Hester Petty of Democracy Greensboro is one regular speaker at town hall meetings who has often used the projector provided by the city. On May 11, she argued that “the compilation video on the city’s website does not accurately represent the circumstances surrounding the homicide of Marcus Deon Smith by Greensboro police officers.”
I asked Petty for her reaction to the proposed changes.
“My take is that city council wants to avoid allowing any more televised town hall meetings because of the damaging information that has been brought up by citizens and broadcast publicly,” she wrote in an email. “The homicide of Marcus Smith, the lack of meaningful action on MWBE, and the wrenching testimony from SCAT riders about the city’s broken transportation system, all illustrate glaring failures on the part of the city council, the city manager and city government in general.”
She also wrote that the change in venues would not cause her or other protestors to stop speaking at meetings. “If they are hoping that we will not follow them from district to district for the next five months, they are mistaken.”
That claim will be first tested on July 8. Before then, the next meeting of the Greensboro City Council will be held Tuesday, June 18, at 5 p.m. in its regular location, the city council chamber of the Melvin Municipal Office Building (MMOB) at 300 W. Washington St. Agenda item No. 24 will be a “Motion to Adopt the Revised 2019 City Council Regular Meeting Schedule.”