Video Taped Meetings are Fully Transparent

The following letter appeared in local newspapers and is shared with us here by the author Ruth Platner. Ms. Platner is Chair of the Charlestown Planning Commission.

Ruth Platner
Ruth Platner

The meetings of the Charlestown Planning Commission, Town Council, and Zoning Board are video taped, audio taped, and these tapes are available to the public 24/7 at the Town’s website. There is a second video recorded for Cox for public broadcasting. Despite this transparency, Deborah Carney filed a recent complaint under the Open Meetings Act against the Planning Commission based on her objection to a poll taken (on camera, and fully recorded) to determine consensus before a motion was made. The results of the poll were no mystery to viewers or listeners, nonetheless, the Attorney General agreed that the Planning Commission’s minutes were in need of correction and they will be corrected.

Correcting minutes is easy to do, but it is the two video and audio recordings that make the meeting truly open. By contrast, the Charlestown Economic Improvement Commission (EIC) has no recording, and their minutes list only the agenda items and votes taken. One of the EIC members, Ron Russo, is a candidate for Town Council, but a year’s worth of EIC minutes yields no evidence of his views on any topic. The EIC’s chairman, Frank Glista, routinely appears at Town Council meetings to give the opinion of the EIC, but those opinions and sometimes their topics are not recorded in the EIC minutes. Despite this lack of openness and occasional real violation, Deb Carney hasn’t filed any complaints with the Attorney General against the EIC.

At the public hearing to discuss the purchase of land for the Charlestown Moraine Preserve, Deb Carney rose to speak against the purchase, as did the Chairman of the EIC. The Chairman of the Parks and Recreation Commission, Tim Quillen, submitted a letter with the opinion of that commission. The letter was withdrawn when it was discovered that no item on that topic had appeared on a Parks and Rec. agenda and there had been no advertised meeting in the time that the open space purchase was proposed. Deb Carney did not file a complaint that an illegal meeting had taken place or include a complaint against Paula Andersen, the Commission’s liaison.

What Frank Glista, Tim Quillen, Ron Russo, and Paula Andersen have in common is that they are members, officers, or candidates of the Charlestown Democratic Town Committee. Filing complaints against them would not serve the political purpose of that group. Perhaps it is political alliances that dictate Ms. Carney’s legal complaints, and not her concern over violation of the public trust.

What will improve open government is technology, not politically targeted complaints. We would all benefit from recordings of EIC and other commission meetings. If there is any lack of transparency in town government, it is certainly not at video taped meetings.

Ruth Platner