Upcoming Greensboro town hall meetings may be videotaped, but not televised
The next five town hall meetings of the Greensboro city council will not be televised or streamed live, but the council is considering making videos for later viewing.
At the town hall meeting on June 4, Mayor Nancy Vaughan announced that the July through November town hall meetings will be held in each of the city’s districts rather than in the council chamber, and will be in “buildings that don’t have the ability to televise.” Instead, audio recordings and minutes of the meetings will be posted online.
At the June 18 business meeting, district 1 representative Sharon Hightower asked if it would be possible to videotape these offsite meetings, rather than just recording audio. City manager David Parrish replied, “If that’s something y’all want us to consider, we’ll consider it.”
In the week before this exchange between Hightower and Parrish, both the editor of the Rhino Times and a member of Democracy Greensboro questioned the stated reason moving the town hall meetings out of the council chamber. At the eight previous town halls, protestors took the podium to call for the firing of Greensboro Police Chief Wayne Scott, five of whose officers fatally hogtied Marcus Deon Smith on Sept. 8 of last year.
June 11 and June 13 articles in the Rhino Times, John Hammer alleged that some council members had told him “off the record” that the “main reason” for moving the meetings around was to deny those protestors the chance to appear on camera.
Hester Petty of Democracy Greensboro, a longtime critic of the city council and one of those calling for Chief Scott’s resignation or dismissal, also believes this to be the motive for the change in venues.
Mayor Vaughan announced this upcoming change in venue near the end of the June 4 meeting, but it was not on that session’s agenda. At the June 18 meeting, it was Agenda Item 24, “Motion to Adopt the Revised 2019 City Council Regular Meeting Schedule.” This was part of the Consent Agenda, meaning multiple items that are voted on all at once, without individual deliberation or public comment. The agenda for the June 18 meeting was posted online the week before.
On Monday, Hester Petty sent a mass email to the mayor and all the council members. Emails to and from @greensboro-nc.gov addresses are public documents.
In this email, Petty asked the council “to please remove Item 24 from the consent agenda and give the public a chance to be heard on changes to Town Hall meetings before you put these changes into effect.”
The only council member to reply was District 1’s Sharon Hightower, who wrote, “I will request to move it, as I have a few concerns myself.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, Hightower asked questions about the item but did not ask for it to be removed from the consent agenda.
Before the council voting on the consent agenda items, Hightower asked, “Can we not tape these meetings at least for the future, even if they’re not televised live?”
“The ability is there,” Parrish replied. “If we do it offsite, it’s just an additional consideration of set up, tear down, production afterward, but it’s up to this body.”
He said that this would require “other items to be considered, such as recording and how do we air, because we don’t have the capacity to do it live. We have the capacity to do it live here, but not off-site.”
“I was wondering why we were not taping it, at least,” Hightower replied, jokingly adding that, if necessary, “I’ll carry the camera over there.”
“We’ll put a Go Pro on you,” joked Parrish, then, more seriously, “If that’s something y’all want us to consider, we’ll consider it.”
District 5 representative Tammi Thurm said she was in favor of video-recording the July 8 meeting at the Barber Park event center as an experiment.
“We may find out that, because city council members don’t have microphones, or we don’t have adequate coverage within the room, it just doesn’t work, but I’d like to at least try and see.”
No council member pointed out that any problems with lack of microphones or coverage would also have been the case with the previously agreed upon idea of only doing an audio recording. Thurm was the only one to address John Hammer’s claim that some on the council wanted to move the town hall meetings out of the council chamber to keep protestors off camera.
“I think that addresses the issue of [the claim that] we’re doing it just because we don’t want people to be heard or be seen, which is certainly not my motivation and the motivation of others that I’ve spoken with about this, but I think it’s worth trying it and seeing if it works.”
“If we need microphones, I think that ought to be an easy fix,” Hightower said. “I think our T.V. people, GTN, have ‘em, correct?”
“We’ll work through the logistics of it,” Parrish said.
Hightower asked Parrish, “Do I need to make that motion, or just give you direction?”
“I think that we need to just give them direction,” Mayor Vaughan said.
The council then voted unanimously to approve the consent agenda.
Item 24, “Motion to Adopt the Revised 2019 City Council Regular Meeting Schedule,” links to a PDF of the revised schedule. The revision includes not just the changed venues, but the following sentence: “The first meeting of the month will primarily be for ceremonial/presentation items, public comment, and items calling public hearings.”
This is a change from how the first meetings of each month are described on the city’s website, which states they “will primarily be for ceremonial/presentation items, unlimited public comment, and items calling for public hearings.” Whether the removal of “unlimited” is significant remains to be seen.