They had to look to the distant shores of Kingborough, Tasmania and another Aussie town, Strathfield, near Sydney, as well as Calgary, to find some written words about recording public meetings.
After considering those, Maple Ridge councillors have come up with a new set of rules to govern how public meetings of council are recorded and accessed in the digital age.
Council OK’d its new Recordings of Council Policy last week. The policy allows staff to remove video recordings or parts of them from the website, “where it considers it prudent or advisable to do so.”
That’s the same approach staff followed last year when a video recording of a June 16, 2013 committee meeting was edited, the reposted on the district’s website, because of comments made by Coun. Corisa Bell. She had questioned staff about the budget.
Mayor Ernie Daykin said the policy is to protect the district from being sued for defamation, if it allowed such comments to remain online.
He said that unlike the House of Commons or B.C. legislature, comments made at council meetings are not protected from libel and slander laws.
“You don’t name names. You have to be careful what you’re saying. Other than that, it’s not edited.”
However, libel lawyer David F. Sutherland said last year that recordings of public meetings have “qualified privilege,” meaning they’re largely protected from legal action from what was said at them.
“There’s a very wide protection for a fair and accurate report, which a videotape would be, of a council meeting,” under Section 4 of the Libel and Slander Act.”
The new policy also allows video recordings to be kept online for four years, then archived for another three years.
“I don’t think anybody was remotely close to that,” Daykin said.
After considering the policy in July, more changes were made to it before it was approved last week. The opening statement says video meetings “may” be livestreamed, rather than saying they will be livestreamed.
The meetings include regular council, workshops and committee of the whole meetings.
But council hasn’t even decided if the Monday morning workshops will be livestreamed.
“I guess we’ll see what the interest is in that,” Daykin said.
“Make sure the technology works and then go from there.”
“We’ve had the odd little wrinkle even live streaming from council. It’s not as simple as I think it is.”
The policy also allows mayor or chair of the meeting to stop livestreaming and recording of a meeting if it’s deemed prudent to do so.
Coun. Bell wonders why district staff didn’t look a little closer to home and look at recording policies in Metro Vancouver cities. However, there were no written policies from nearby available.
“I believe that all videos should be public property.”
Bell said the clause that gives staff the option to edit video recordings of meetings based on the possibility of liability because of contentious statements, isn’t needed.
“There really shouldn’t be anything they’re concerned about.”
“They don’t need to be edited. It’s a public meeting.”
Coincidental with the new policy, has been a major upgrade of the Blaney Room at Maple Ridge municipal hall, as well as equipment upgrades in council chambers and another meeting room on the second floor for a total cost of about $150,000.
The Blaney Room, where council’s Monday morning workshops are held, has now been fitted with audio visual equipment and cameras to allow livestreaming of meetings, if council decides later to do that.
Three large touch-screens are also on the walls in the room that has been redecorated with new carpet, paint and lighting.