Esrati report, episode 7 How many public meetings do you need?

Welcome to the Esrati Report- this is the first post with the new blog theme. Would love to hear what you think in comments.

Why am I doing live video blogs daily, instead of the old style posting you ask?

Well, one, because local news is full of car crashes, fires, credit card skimmers and the like. While important news and analysis is missing. I’m also hoping to give you the news that matters in a way that’s just a bit more entertaining- since, basically, Dayton has so many jokes to tell thanks to the dunderheads that think they know what’s good for us.

And, because I realize that half the people read- and half the people watch TV. So, to get to all of you- I’m doing both at once. Now, for the confusing part- I’m posting this video, which was shot last week on Dec 3rd today on Dec 11th. Yes, I’m a bit behind on the video posts. Why? Well, I want you to watch them on Youtube first- and subscribe- so I can try to monetize the youtube channel to help pay for all this- and to give local advertisers a way to reach the smart folks in Dayton.

And because, we still don’t have the workflows all figured out. So, this will post with a date of the 3rd- even though we launched the new site on the 11th. Confused- don’t be.

If you don’t want to watch- you can read. The text might not match the video exactly- I’m not a robot reading this – and you may miss out on the funny graphics we try to add. So watch or read- up to you.

This is an important subject. It’s my goal to get all public meetings broadcast on open platforms. And, that they are interactive. The real key will be to reduce the number of meetings- and organizations so that we can actually keep track of all the money.

Sort of like forcing Wright State not to have all these separate non-profit shell companies to hide their dirty deals from public scrutiny, but that’s an upcoming post.

Subscribers to this channel know that I’ve spent a lot of time video recording public meetings and putting them up on Youtube for all to see.

The Dayton Public Schools board of education, the Montgomery County Democratic party, the Wright State board of trustees, candidates nights even the Library board.

There’s a reason for it. In Ohio, as in many states we have a set of laws – the Sunshine laws, which contain the Open Meetings Act- that makes it a requirement for public business to meet in public- with a few, very defined exceptions- and, all of those exceptions- can only be taken under consideration in a meeting announced and concluded in a public meeting.

These laws are the only ones that come with a 250 page handbook- the “Yellow Book” – written in plain English- to make sure that even the knuckleheads we elect can figure it out.

Speaking of the knuckleheads- they are required to undertake a public training every year- on these very laws.

Before the advent of video cameras, public bodies were very careful- some even used to make sure the doors were open to city hall- even in the middle of a snowstorm- when a public body was in session. They wanted to make sure there were no questions of meeting in private, the Smokey back rooms that used to be the place public business was done.

These laws went on Ohio’s books in the mid-fifties. They aren’t new.

They are there to protect you and me.

And, yet, public bodies continue to ignore them. In fact- they do all kinds of things to avoid complying- and it’s time they stop.

Some of the tricks they use- are to have a “work session” or “review session” where they say they don’t actually vote on anything- but deliberation and discussion takes place. There are no legal provisions for these kinds of meetings in the Dayton City Charter- yet the Dayton city commission continues to do this- because they don’t want you to see how the sausage is made.

Other boards do things like split up into committees- and try to meet in smaller groups- thinking they are being slick. This is another way to avoid having to do the hard work while the public is watching. Or, by delegating their work to a committee of outsiders- which should be grounds for removal from office for abdication of duties- but alas it’s not.

There are other rules- about meeting round robin- be it via email, phone, text or a series of meetings with a single person. It’s hard to stop these- but, lets be very clear- they are illegal.

There are also rules about a meeting of a majority of members outside of the public view- which is broken all the time by County Commissioners and best friends Judy Dodge and Debbie Lieberman- who are often out in public together. It’s a no-no- but, people seem to have let it slide for so long that it’s become moot. It shouldn’t be.

Now for the universal truth I can tell you about public bodies- the worse they are, the more they meet. Competent leadership doesn’t require multiple meetings to discuss the same agenda. They don’t need to split up into subcommittees or delegate to others. They take care of business- themselves. In an orderly and competent manner. This often means actual public discussion of the issues, questions of staff and directions with timelines for responses.

It’s sort of like what happens in the corporate boardroom- where the CEO is on the hotseat- and the board demands clarity in plan and action.

Another part of this whole public meeting thing is the publishing of an agenda- and minutes afterward. The good organizations never have a problem doing this- often with at least a weeks leadtime. This shows they are prepared, forward thinking, and not reactive.

The bad organizations can’t manage this simple step.

Some think that they need to pay for a software as a service called Board Docs. This is a waste of money. Most don’t use it properly, data isn’t searchable and it’s not mobile friendly.

And, last but not least, we have the public comments section of the meeting. Good organizations welcome public input- and actually respond with a summation of the issue- and set a response plan. Bad organizations worry more about cutting off the citizen and getting out of their meeting.

If you are evaluating public bodies, something else to look for is public access to the meetings- online. In days of old, we counted on public access television to broadcast the local commission meetings- just like CSPAN covers congress. What used to be an expensive, technology burden, can now be done with a simple digital video camera and later uploading to youtube at minimal cost- like what I do. If you want to get fancy- with multiple cameras- there are affordable remote cameras, control rooms, or even open source options like what I use to broadcast this show. There is no excuse for not recording your public meeting- and uploading it to Youtube- unless you’ve got something to hide.

Notice- I keep mentioning YouTube- not Facebook. The reason is that Facebook is a walled garden- requiring a membership to access content. It also doesn’t come up in search the same way that Youtube does. Youtube is the second leading search engine after Google for good reason (and it’s not just because Google owns Youtube). In terms of ADA compliance- Youtube even makes a rudimentary automatic closed caption- so deaf people can watch your meeting.

I was planning on talking about this issue today even before I saw the article on the front page of the Dayton Daily about the jail task force cancelling their public meetings and instead meeting in private subcommittees. Look at their reasoning for doing it. Hint- they’re all the reasons the law is there in the first place. To stop that kind of doing business in back rooms.

There is one other issue to address besides the fact that your local public body should be publishing all their meetings online in video- preferably live- is that there are too many public bodies in this county- making it harder for people like me to act as a watchdog over all of them. It’s an intentional tactic to take power away from us. Remember, we’re supposed to have a government of the people, for the people. Live video recordings that are archived are part of the way we can keep our politicians honest and our government ours.

Let me know what local body you think isn’t making the public access grade in comments.

And if you want to know more about my fight with DPS to keep them meeting in public- watch this video:

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