B and C hodgepodge continues

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County > Councilors unable to agree on consistent format for Boards and Commissions

By Arin McKenna

If there is one thing Los Alamos boards and commissions are lacking, it is consistency. Some meet at the municipal building, others meet at the library or Fuller Lodge. Some broadcast their meetings, some do not. Those that broadcast have summary or action minutes, which list the presenters, motion and vote for each item.
 Those not broadcasting have narrative minutes. One board currently streaming is now contemplating whether it should stop streaming.
At Tuesday’s work session, Los Alamos County staff asked council to consider whether there should be more consistency among the boards and commissions. The only thing councilors could agree on was that the agendas should all follow the same format.
County Administrator Harry Burgess and Public Information Officer Julie Habiger asked council to consider five questions:
• Whether all boards and commissions should meet in either room 110 or council chambers at the municipal building.
• Whether all boards should employ streaming/video capture, or at the very least, not bounce back and forth between streaming and written minutes as the composition of the board changes.
• Whether all boards should be required to use the standardized agenda provided in the B and C procedural rules, or whether chairs can ask for a different agenda format.
• Whether minutes should be standardized.
• Whether B and C’s should be required to follow the meeting format specified in the Procedural Rules or be allowed more informal formats, particularly during public comment.
Staff argued that for the sake of openness and transparency, the public should know what to expect at a B and C meeting, and that the current lack of consistency creates confusion for both the public and for staff who work with multiple B and Cs.
Aside from agreeing that agenda formats should be consistent, council was unable to provide any clear direction on those questions.
Vice Chair Kristin Henderson and Councilor David Izraelevitz supported streaming/video capture of all meetings with summary minutes.
Henderson felt all B and Cs should meet in the municipal building and stream their meetings for those who cannot attend. She also advocated for citizens being able to participate in real time via email.
Councilor Pete Sheehey suggested both video capture and narrative minutes.
“It’s a lot easier to skim through written minutes than it is to go through two, three hours of video and find what somebody said or did not say,” Sheehey said. “We found it useful to go back over previous council meetings to have the written minutes available, so you could look at what was discussed and who said what. “
It should be noted that agendas for council and the transportation board both have links to video segments relating to specific agenda items, so it is not necessary to “skim…through two, three hours of video.” Planning and Zoning currently is not providing those links.
“When we had written minutes they were either inaccurate or very loose because it’s very hard to write down accurately when someone speaks rather disjointedly, to really capture what it is they’re trying to say,” Izraelevitz countered. “Or, in the case of quasi-judicial hearings such as P and Z, it takes a long, long time, so the public does not have access to those minutes because they’re still being composed.”
Councilor Rick Reiss pointed out that some boards, such as the Environmental Sustainability Board, were months behind in posting minutes to their website, whereas video streaming is available almost immediately.
Councilor Frances Berting was afraid that streaming would discourage people from signing up for B and Cs.
“This (B and Cs) is a starting point for many people who are innocent and unknowing of how things happen, and they should not be plunked in front of the camera, because their contributions could be useful if they don’t want to do that,” Berting said.
Neither staff nor councilors have found specific examples of people afraid to serve on a board because its meetings are being streamed.
In addition to providing a complete recording of actual proceedings, video streaming reduces costs by freeing staff time devoted to providing narrative minutes.
Sheehey argued that the county should be able to purchase inexpensive transcription software that could do 80 percent of the transcription work and require very little staff time, although he provided no evidence that such software actually exists. The most popular speech recognition software available must be “trained” to recognize a single user.
Izraelevitz questioned whether such transcriptions might face legal challenges.
Berting also contended that the county’s technology was not working properly, and that further use of technology should be put on hold until those problems were corrected.
Berting asserted that boards and commission webpages listing board members, time and locations for meetings, etc., were not available. The Monitor had no difficulty accessing those pages from either a MAC or a PC. Berting also had a problem with the streaming format, which shows the video on one side and the agenda next to it. On her computer, the agenda screen was blank.
Berting also suggested that all B and C members’ emails — or at least the chair’s−should be disclosed on the B and C webpage.
In terms of the formality of the meetings, Chair Geoff Rodgers and Councilor Steve Girrens suggested requiring formal procedures for “action” boards such as Planning and Zoning and the Department of Public Utilities, and a more informal option for “advisory” boards.
“The Planning and Zoning Commission makes real decisions in real time based upon things that are presented to them that impact people’s lives. The Utilities Board is the same way. As Councilor Girrens said, we’re running a corporation,” Rodgers said. “I think we should have greater expectations of those kinds of boards that do have a direct impact on people’s lives, as opposed to making recommendations.”
Izraelevitz argued that any board might have contentious issues to deal with, and was concerned that boards might utilize informal meeting formats for “easy” topics of discussion and revert to more formal formats to curtail difficult discussions.
“I think we need to sensitize the public to the fact that one of our primary responsibilities as councilors or as representatives of the community, which board members are, that there needs to be an open process,” Izraelevitz said.
The issue of video streaming was also raised for P and Z and BPU. P and Z currently offers streaming/video capture through the website. BPU does video capture, but it can only be accessed in the Department of Public Utilities offices. Staff is able to utilize P and Z videos to provide exact transcripts for legal proceedings.
Council was also asked for guidance on how to proceed with development prospects for 1010 Central Avenue.
The county had two responses to its Request for Proposals. Negotiations with the preferred respondent fell through, but the second respondent is still interested in developing the property.
Burgess asked whether staff should proceed with negotiations or issue a new RFP, perhaps with different criteria.
Councilors were in agreement that if a qualified respondent was interested, the county should proceed with negotiations.