City recommendation not to record neighborhood meetings criticized

Minneapolis's Neighborhood and Community Relations department logo
Minneapolis's Neighborhood and Community Relations department logo

The Kingfield Neighborhood Association began recording its meetings in May and posting them to YouTube, a move that board president Chris DesRoches said has helped increase transparency. He said he appreciated being able to direct residents who missed an apartment developer’s presentation to “the primary source.”

“People can watch those discussions without having to read minutes, which may not be as reflective of the conversation as video,” he said.

Yet in early July, DesRoches and other neighborhood leaders received guidance from the city recommending that meetings not be recorded because “some community members may feel uncomfortable, hampering the group’s ability to have an honest conversation.” If organizers do record meetings, the city advises, participants should be informed.

Jane Kirtley, a professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota, agreed that it’s courteous to tell attendees they’re being recorded. But she said the city shouldn’t discourage recording of neighborhood meetings, which offer an opportunity for city council members, government officials and others to make presentations on matters in the public interest.

“It’s very difficult for most people to take the time to attend public meetings, and increasingly news organizations that don’t have the resources they once did are not able to monitor the meetings in real time,” she said, adding that the “little projects” discussed at meetings — such as what will happen to a local park — “have a huge impact on the day-to-day lives of people.” Steven Gallagher, a policy specialist in the city department serving neighborhood organizations, said the guidance was drafted “using input from city staff, residents and other stakeholders.”

Of the 20 neighborhood organizations in Southwest Minneapolis, Kingfield is the only one recording its meetings. While the organizations are required to post minutes on their websites, Kirtley said that “meeting minutes, by their very nature, tend to be summaries.”

Cedar-Isles-Dean resident John Abraham, a contributor to the Hill & Lake Press, said he’s been frustrated that his neighborhood organization is not posting recordings of its meetings online.

“People in any type of public capacity, even on a neighborhood board, need to be held accountable,” he said.

Mary Pattock, president of the Cedar-Isles-Dean Neighborhood Association (CIDNA), said her bias is “toward openness and disclosure,” but it’s important to “balance privacy with transparency” and she thinks recording meetings can disincentivize attendance.

At the beginning of a Sept. 9 CIDNA meeting, which included presentations by a City Council member and a high-ranking police official, Pattock cited the city’s guidance before requesting that a Southwest Journal reporter not record the meeting. (Her request was declined.) The city says the guidance was not meant to govern the conduct of journalists.

The only time Pattock has recorded a CIDNA meeting, she said, was for a meeting with the Met Council, asking officials for commitments on the construction of the Southwest Light Rail Transit project. “We wanted to get [their] words down,” she said.

“There’s a difference between, say, standing up at a City Council meeting and a Park Board meeting and representing your ideas and getting up with your neighbors and talking over problems,” she said.

Pattock is worried recording meetings would leave residents open to mockery on the Twitter account WedgeLIVE, where she said she was once quoted out of context as saying she “doesn’t have long for this world.”

“In the last year or two … ordinary people, not seeking to go public but only wanting to communicate with their neighbors, were getting ridiculed and trashed in online postings,” she wrote in an email.

DesRoches said he’s been ridiculed on social media “fairly frequently” and that it can happen “anytime someone goes and speaks in public, whether or not it’s posted online.”

“I think you have to balance that,” he said, “with the bigger concern that there is money being spent by a group of people in our neighborhood that is allocated from the city and ensuring that is not done behind closed doors.”

DesRoches said he can notify residents they are being recorded in the Zoom comments pane. Despite the city’s recommendation, he said, Kingfield has no plans to stop recording and posting videos of its meetings.

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