WESTFIELD- The Commissioners on the Municipal Light Board (MLB) clarified their vote last Wednesday, Oct. 2, in which members voted against video recording or streaming future meetings.
Several commissioners said that they chose to vote against the motion brought forward by Ward 5 Commissioner Thomas Flaherty because they want to wait until after the election to make the decision. Four of the seven seats on the board are being contested for reelection, so there is a possibility that most of the current commissioners are not there in just a few months.
MLB Chair and Ward 6 Commissioner Robert Sacco said that the motion brought by Flaherty was to start recording the meetings officially in January’s meeting. Sacco said that he and others wanted to wait so that the possibly new MLB could choose between recording and streaming, which would carry different laws with each choice.
After the vote was defeated with three votes in favor, three against, and one abstaining, Sacco asked Westfield Gas and Electric General Manager Tony Contrino to put the vote on the agenda for January.
“During the meeting and before the vote there was discussion about the several options available as to how recordings are done. Issues such as live stream vs. recording.” said Sacco, “At a prior meeting we had asked the Department attorney to provide a report on the legal requirements and any issues we should consider in moving forward.”
Should they choose to simply record the meetings and post the video online afterwards, it would mean that the recordings are treated different legally as part of the public record. Recorded meetings must be saved indefinitely and remain accessible to the public for review.
Live streamed meetings do not necessarily need to be preserved, but some commissioners expressed that it could also be the more expensive option.
“It was after that discussion and recognizing there are several options about how to handle the videotaping that several members felt we should wait a couple of months and allow any news board members to express their views on the topic.” said Sacco.
Ward 1 Commissioner Kevin Kelleher said that he is unsure how he would vote when it comes to the January meeting. He noted that there are several ways, technologically speaking, that the MLB could go about streaming the meetings live should they choose to go that route.
Ward 2 Commissioner Ray Rivera said that he was among the first people to support the recording or streaming of meetings. Rivera was among the votes against the measure because he said that he wants to wait in order to get it completely right. He added that the MLB has received pressure from City Council to implement video recording or streaming, but that they are in the process of doing so on their own accord.
“My only responsibility is for the ratepayers.” said Rivera, “I want to ensure that when i put out something it will be the best product out there.”
Rivera said that he thinks the MLB will likely opt to go the streaming route, but that there are more questions beyond that. They would have to figure out how to deal with going from regular session to executive session, how many cameras there would be, and where the cameras would be pointed at any given time.
Rivera added that they may want to do more practice runs before deciding for sure. A couple of recent MLB meetings were recorded as a test run, but several commissioners said there were some small issues to work out first.
Flaherty said that they had done a test run for the two most recent monthly meetings where they recorded the beginning of the meeting through public participation. He noted that the test went well despite a minor audio glitch. He said that he was surprised that the vote did not go through, as he expected that the discussions and tests held by the MLB over the last several months were to prepare a potentially new commission for the meetings to be recorded in January.
Ward 3 Commissioner Dawn Renaudette said that they need to consider that a recorded and posted meeting would be subject for review for possible violations of Open Meeting Law for a much longer period of time after the meeting than is the case now.
Ward 4 Commissioner Francis Liptak said that he is indifferent on the idea of recording, streaming, or nothing at all. He said he considered if it was even necessary to record while people have the option of attending meetings and participating in the public comment portion of the meetings.
He noted that even livestreaming the meetings would open up the MLB to more open meeting law complaints because there would simply be more eyes watching the meeting as it happens. He added that, if it comes to a vote in January, he would likely voted for simply recording and posting the meetings online.