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Oro-Medonte cancels live streaming of meetings in ‘undemocratic’ move

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In Council Watch
Feb 19th, 2020
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Randy Greenlaw

After shooting down motion to expand live streaming, council votes to end it; ‘Unless they’ve got stuff to hide, what are they worried about?’ asks citizen

By: Nathan Taylor OrilliaMatters

Oro-Medonte Township Council voted recently to nix live-streaming of its meetings. Instead, the recordings will be uploaded to YouTube after the meetings and will be available on the video streaming website for two weeks.

A move to limit the live streaming of Oro-Medonte council meetings is “undemocratic,” according to one upset resident.

Ann Truyens attended a recent township council meeting, during which council voted down a motion to live stream every meeting — regular, special and public — “when feasible.” It was a second motion, however, that went too far, according to Truyens.

Shawn ScottCoun. Shawn Scott proposed the township delete the recordings from YouTube after two weeks, that it not live-stream the open forum and that the recordings be uploaded after the meeting — which would mean they wouldn’t be live-streamed at all.

“It’s totally undemocratic,” Truyens said. “Unless they’ve got stuff to hide, what are they worried about?”

According to Mayor Harry Hughes and some fellow council members, the concern is around the privacy of residents.

Before commenting during the open forum, residents must provide their names and addresses. Despite one resident suggesting the township allow speakers to provide that information in writing rather than verbally, Scott’s motion was approved in 5-2 vote, with councillors Randy Greenlaw and Ian Veitch voting against it.

The two tried to get Scott’s motion deferred to the next council meeting to allow more discussion among council and the public. That, too, was defeated.

“Why is there this urgency to pass it? It is a substantial change from what we’re doing now,” Greenlaw told OrilliaMatters.

While Greenlaw’s intention to table his motion to expand live streaming was known well in advance, Scott’s motion caught him “off guard.”

“It’s fine if you don’t agree with what I’m proposing, but it would have been nice to know prior to (the meeting) because then we could have come up with something that’s amicable,” Greenlaw said.

Many on council campaigned on a platform of communication and transparency, Greenlaw noted, and Coun. Tammy DeSousa took exception to his comment and his motion.

“There’s an implication here that we are not being transparent,” she told him at the meeting, even asking him if he live streamed his meetings with constituents.

Greenlaw told OrilliaMatters that was not the case and that he was making the proposal based on feedback from residents.

“This is not about me,” he said. “I am the messenger.”

The issue of privacy raised by some on council wasn’t pertaining solely to residents’ names and addresses, Hughes said.

“There are a number of keyboard warriors out there who are launching personal attacks on people whose opinions differ from their own,” he said. “They’re indicating they just won’t come to council with the chance of having their person attacked.”

“We would never be entertaining these changes to live streaming if it weren’t for these people,” he continued. “If they had been respectful, that’s democracy. Personal attacks on people because of the ideas they express is not acceptable.”

Those who are behind the “personal attacks” are part of a “special interest group,” Hughes said.

Truyens, who is a member of AWARE Simcoe, took that as a shot at her and fellow group members.

“We aren’t a special interest group. We are a public interest group. We’re trying to monitor the council meetings and report back to the people who are part of our membership,” she said, noting she is not aware of people being personally attacked for their views.

“Anybody who speaks up is called a special interest group. That all comes from Harry. He does not want to be questioned. That’s not democracy.”

Truyens and Hughes had a testy exchange during the open forum at the recent meeting, with Hughes taking Truyens to task over the rules of open forum, telling her it was for seeking “clarification” on agenda items, not offering opinions.

“He’s running the council like it’s a classroom, treating us like we’re kids,” she said. “It’s really upsetting. It’s unconscionable.”

She referred to the changes to live streaming as “censorship.” The mayor disagrees.

“I don’t know how you can call that censorship when the meetings are available to watch,” Hughes said.

While the videos will be deleted from YouTube after two weeks, residents wanting to view them can do so by going to the township office.

That doesn’t help those with mobility or other issues who can’t make it to the office or to meetings, Truyens said, noting that was one of the benefits of live streaming.

During the meeting, Coun. Cathy Keane questioned the logic behind the benefits of live streaming for those who can’t attend.

“If a live stream is parallel with the actual meeting, in essence, they could attend,” she said.

One of the reasons Hughes cited for removing the videos from YouTube after two weeks has to do with privacy and accessibility legislation and concerns about whether it is being breached. Staff is looking into that and will report back.

The decision regarding live streaming was ratified at the recent meeting, but Truyens is hoping someone pulls it from the minutes at the next meeting for further discussion.

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