One of the few silver linings of the pandemic has been the increased access to local government as meetings are livestreamed so anyone with internet access can watch.
The online meetings were mandated by the state because of the vital importance of having citizenry know what their elected officials are up to and be able to offer input — some of which is required by law — while everyone stays safe from COVID-19.
Now that the government agencies have practice at — and the proper equipment for — recording and live-streaming meetings, they should not abandon the practice when the pandemic goes away someday.
In addition, the many local government bodies on Whidbey Island should all post their recorded meetings online, whether it’s on their websites or YouTube.
Elected officials should welcome and value public participation. They should be willing to make small investments in time and energy in taking these important steps.
Even before the pandemic, many local governments across Whidbey Island recorded council and board meetings of elected officials and posted them online.
The largest local governments, such as the city of Oak Harbor, the Island County Board of Commissioners and the hospital district took this step, but even the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation board doesn’t find it too onerous.
The Oak Harbor School Board, for one, has resisted this step, even as it represents one of the biggest and most important taxpayer-funded entities on the island. The meetings aren’t video recorded at all by the district. People interested in seeing a recent meeting in which shouting audience members were kicked out had to turn to a video a citizen happened to post on YouTube.
Administrators claimed that the reason for omission is that the district chooses to make investments elsewhere, which is a dubious excuse. After all, the school has a class and a club of students who could easily assist.
More importantly, increasing public access should be a priority for a school board, even — or especially — if they are facing scrutiny.
Lawmakers have long understood the importance of recording what happens at these meetings, which is why meeting minutes are a legal requirement — although some boards unfortunately choose to include the bare minimum of information in the documents. Perhaps someday video recordings will also become a legal necessity.
Local government should be ahead of the law.