Members of the Rochester-Olmsted Council of Governments “politely declined” a request to make a video record of their meetings.
Chairman Mark Thein said he’s concerned about how recording equipment could affect council discussions, noting some members might opt not to speak and others might become more outgoing in front of cameras.
“We’re here to do work and not put on a show,” the Olmsted County commissioner said.
The request presented during Tuesday’s meeting came from Rochester City Administrator Steve Rymer, who cited the city’s plan to record and livestream all city boards and committees for online viewing, starting July 1.
The Rochester-Olmsted Council of Governments, commonly referred to as ROCOG, does not fall under the new city directive, since it’s a council created to represent several local government units within Olmsted County.
Council members include five Rochester City Council representatives, three Olmsted County commissioners, three representatives from small cities, two representatives from township boards, a Rochester School District representative and two residents without government affiliation.
With 12 of the 16 members present, the council voted 8-4 to deny Rymer’s request. Rochester Mayor Kim Norton, Rochester City Council members Shaun Palmer and Mark Bilderback, and Stewartville City Administrator Bill Schimmel opposed the decision.
Rochester City Council President Randy Staver said he was on the fence regarding the request, raising questions about the cost and feasibility of using the recording equipment, which the city is purchasing.
“For crying out loud, we can’t get the recording equipment to work consistently in the council chambers,” he said.
He added that it’s important to provide meeting information, which ROCOG does in written form, but questioned whether a video record is needed. “I don’t know that there’s a burning desire on the part of the populace to see these meetings,” he said.
Council Member Michael Wojcik, who did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, said in April that he believes the ROCOG meetings need to be recorded.
“I believe it is critical that the public have access to view those meetings,” he said.
His comments were made during a council study session days after a ROCOG meeting where he questioned the merits of proposed work at the intersection of U.S. Highway 14 and Olmsted County Road 104, which comes with an estimated price tag of $38 million.
In between meetings, he posted concerns on social media, suggesting the interchange should be closed and noting the ROCOG debate should be viewable by local residents.
He later proposed city staff could record the public meetings without ROCOG board approval.
“Whichever way it happens, that needs to be recorded,” he said.
Palmer noted during Tuesday’s meeting that recording is allowed during the public meetings, and others on the board acknowledged it’s frequently done by audience members at some meetings.
“It happens all the time,” said Olmsted County Commissioner Ken Brown, who initiated the decision to decline the city’s request.