WELLFLEET — The select board voted 3-2 on Feb. 28 not to adopt a policy requiring the videotaping of all regulatory town board meetings. The vote perpetuated Wellfleet’s status as the only Cape Cod town without such a policy.
The current policy allows each committee to decide whether its meetings will be taped and broadcast on the town’s cable access channel. At present, among the town’s permit-granting and policymaking bodies, only the select board and zoning board of appeals allow taping. The planning board, conservation commission, and board of health do not. Several advisory groups, including the finance committee and shellfish advisory board, are taped.
The vote, which followed a 25-minute discussion, led to a testy exchange between Deborah Magee of the cable advisory committee, which spent months researching and drafting the proposed policy, and select board members Janet Reinhart and Michael DeVasto, who both voted against it.
DeVasto said that he had heard from various board members who did not want to be televised and that he worried they would resign rather than have their meetings broadcast. He said it had nothing to do with wanting to hide something.
“They have their reasons and it’s not because they’re hiding from transparency,” DeVasto said.
“We ask a lot of our volunteers,” said board member Justina Carlson, who also voted against the proposed policy. “I don’t think it should be imposed from outside. I ran a very difficult committee, the water commission. If I had had to deal with an outside committee telling me that I had to be televised, it would have been my breaking point and I would have quit.”
Reinhart, the chair, said that she felt uncomfortable forcing people to be videotaped while conducting town business. “You have to talk about salaries,” she said. “You have to talk about work performance, you have to talk about private property, you have to talk about people who are doing things a little bit illegally.”
Board members Helen Miranda Wilson and Kathleen Bacon voted for the cable advisory committee’s proposal.
“Boards and committees need that accountability stimulus,” said Wilson. “I don’t see it as pressure.”
“It’s a well drafted policy,” said Bacon. “Any regulatory board that is doing the town’s business should be taped. We have a fair number of residents who can’t get out to meetings. I worked seven nights a week in the summer. If not for the tapes, I couldn’t stay informed.”
After the vote, Magee was clearly frustrated.
“I don’t think that because you volunteer you have the right to say you don’t want people to see what you’re talking about,” she told the select board. “If you don’t want to be taped, maybe you should consider not being part of a committee. That’s what we need in this town: absolute transparency.”
Reinhart cut Magee off at that point, and DeVasto said, “I resent the idea that we have a transparency problem in town.”
The three board members who voted against taping said they would consider a different version of the policy that provided for a “grace period” during which town boards could get used to the idea of being on television.
“To ask for a three- to five-year grace period for our hardworking volunteers is only polite,” said Carlson. “What’s the big rush? Let them get used to the technology instead of ramming it down people’s throats.”
“I don’t see this as ramming it down anybody’s throat,” said Town Administrator Dan Hoort, who had stayed out of the fray until then. “I think it is truly a means of transparency. It’s for your residents and people who are not residents but are members of this town to be able to watch what goes on in their community. We are the only community on the Cape that doesn’t tape all of their meetings.”
Fred Magee, a member of the finance committee, stepped to the microphone.
“I agree with Dan,” he said. “The finance committee had all of the concerns that you have expressed when we were asked to videotape last year. My concern was that people would be less frank. That has never been the case, ever. It has never affected us adversely for a minute.”