Lynnwood City Council continues discussion on recording city board, commission meetings

City of Lynnwood Executive Assistant Leah Jensen (bottom center) briefs the Lynnwood City Council on impacts an ordinance requiring all city board and commission meetings would have on city staff and volunteers.

The Lynnwood City Council returned from its winter recess Tuesday night and continued its discussion regarding a proposal to require all city boards and commission meetings be audio or video recorded.

Last year, the council discussed an ordinance that, if adopted, would require all regular and special city board and commission meetings to be recorded in audio or audio/visual format and that the meetings’ minutes be published online at least two weeks from the date of approval.

The motion was tabled by the council until after its recess to allow more input from city staff about logistical and financial issues of recording each meeting. During the council’s Jan. 4 work session, staff highlighted issues they would face when recording meetings for the city’s 11 boards and commissions.

Information Technology (IT) Director Will Cena said one issue for the city is accessing and financing equipment to record virtual and/or hybrid meetings and finding someone to manage the files. He also said that it would be expensive to cover the cost of recording and storing meetings for all of the city’s boards and commissions and added that the city was already spending $12,000 each year to do so for city council meetings.

“There’s the cost of the storage as well as the service of being able to access it,” Cena said.

With a new software program, City Clerk Karen Fitzthum said the city has been able to post meeting agendas for each board and commission in one place, similar to the procedure for council meetings. However, she added that even if the council decided to pay the additional $12,000 to store meetings online, the cost would not include any other features. She added that the program could only store recordings for “a couple years’ worth of material.” 

Fitzthum pointed out that the council has spent “a lot of effort and some money” over the past year trying to stream meetings online during the pandemic and said any plans to do so for boards and commissions meetings should be carefully considered.

“I just want to make sure as we roll out anything new, we do it in a correct and sustainable way,” she said.

Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Director Lynn Sordel said there would be logistical issues for some boards and commissions when trying to record meetings. For instance, he said that the Parks and Recreation Board sometimes meets outdoors in parks.

“Many of the boards and commissions that meet monthly do not meet at (Lynnwood) City Hall,” he said. “They are dispersed all over the city depending on the agenda and the time of the year.”

Additionally, Sordel said that some board and commission members might not feel comfortable being video recorded and that doing so might impact the number of volunteers the city can get.

“Many of our board (members) and commissioners did not join with the expectation that they were going to be recorded,” he said. 

Executive Assistant Leah Jensen then asked the council for additional time to discuss the proposal before adopting the ordinance.

“We would like to help you make an informed decision from all aspects of the request to record board and commission meetings,” she said.

Councilmember Patrick Decker said that ensuring the meetings were recorded is an important matter and added that the ordinance does not require meetings to be video recorded. Decker also said that he would support the decision to give boards and commissions two weeks to a month to make them accessible to the public and that staff should use the request as an opportunity to find a solution to the current problem.

“We could always find a thousand reasons not to change how things are done now,” he said. “Sometimes change is good, and I would challenge staff to find solutions and bring the solutions back to us.”

Decker pointed out that meetings for the city’s Planning Commission – which he served on – are recorded, and they used the recordings to play back meeting discussions. He also said that city board members and commissioners should be subject to being recorded since they act in an advisory capacity to the city council.

“That is part of being a volunteer of the city and being in a leadership role,” he said. 

Decker then proposed including language in the ordinance to make exceptions for meetings that take place outside or at locations that make it difficult to record.

Councilmember Shannon Sessions said boards and commission meetings have not been accurately recorded in the past and added that it is more important to do so now since many public meetings have switched to virtual settings during the pandemic. According to Sessions, even minutes from the meetings had not been logged correctly.

“This is where councilmembers really realized how little some of the boards and commissions were doing to be accountable and make a record of their meetings,” she said.

Sessions also agreed that boards and commission members should be subject to being recorded and added that if they were unaware of that, then the council needed to make that clearer in the future.

“It’s not new information and if (board members and commissioners) don’t know it, or expect it, it’s because we haven’t told them,” she said.

Since many meetings are being held virtually, Council President George Hurst admitted he did not initially see an issue with requiring meetings to be recorded. However, he added that staff should still work toward finding how to record the meetings.

“This is a challenge, but I hope the staff can come up with answers,” he said.

Following the discussion, Hurst agreed the council would postpone the requirements for meetings to be recorded until staff had more time to discuss the matter. However, he said that the council will still vote at its Jan. 10 business meeting on the ordinance to require minutes from each meeting be published two weeks after the meeting takes place.

Also during the work session, the council briefly discussed plans for its annual summit meeting, which gives councilmembers a chance to discuss a range of topics — from procedural matters to big-picture issues — that they don’t have time for during regular weekly business meetings.

This year, Councilmember Sessions said she would prefer that the meeting be centered around the council bonding. She said it would be a good experience since the council had been meeting remotely for two years and there are two newly elected members. Other matters, she said, could be discussed during the council’s work session meetings.

“We just have not had that time (and) it’s far overdue,” she said. “I think that that is the thing that needs to set us off on a good year, not any other little topic we would need to talk about (at a work session) anyway.”

The four-hour summit is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 29 at Rosehill Community Center in Mukilteo from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

–By Cody Sexton

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Real first and last names — as well as city of residence — are required for all commenters.
This is so we can verify your identity before approving your comment.