Some people love performing and being on camera. Others cringe at the thought, especially in this age of surveillance capitalism, when we can’t even go to the supermarket without getting the feeling that we’re being watched and recorded. (Yes, we mean you, “Marty.”)
So we understand the resistance exhibited by some local town officials to the suggestion that the meetings of their boards and committees should be recorded and available on video for viewing on demand. This very question has come up before the Wellfleet Select Board in recent months as it considers whether such recordings should be mandatory for all regulatory town boards or should remain voluntary. Last week the select board again put off making a decision one way or the other so that, as member Justina Carlson put it, town officials could get used to the idea.
It may be that Carlson and her colleagues are regretting the fact that their own board meeting videos are available on demand, since one of them was recently recorded dropping an F bomb at the audience during a contentious select board meeting when a group of loud citizens failed to quiet down sufficiently.
Wellfleet is the only town on Cape Cod whose planning board meetings are not recorded. Chair Gerry Parent has said his reason for avoiding this kind of exposure is that sensitive matters of private property ownership and sometimes painful disputes among neighbors come before his board. This is undoubtedly true. I can confirm that attending planning board meetings in Wellfleet chaired by Mr. Parent has on occasion been quite painful.
But seriously, shouldn’t citizens have the right to decide whether they want to be photographed and recorded or not? Do they have to give up their fundamental right to privacy just because they have volunteered to serve on a town board?
The answer, I think, is that the whole privacy argument in this context is a red herring. Citizens are already protected from exposure in public meetings when a legitimate privacy concern is at stake — when a town employee, for example, is accused of wrongdoing — by numerous exceptions in the Open Meeting Law. And committee members can avoid being revealed on camera as foolish simply by stopping themselves from making foolish remarks.
It may be harder for some board members to avoid exhibitions of incompetence during these meetings. But this is when the true value of videotape recording becomes clear. For it is in watching one’s own performance, in any endeavor or art, that a person who wishes to improve himself or herself finds the greatest opportunity to escape failure or mediocrity. How does Tom Brady achieve the highest level of performance under pressure, after all? He studies the tapes, and learns from them.
Members of boards that agree to be filmed mostly say their meetings get better. Is that possible in Wellfleet?