PEPPERELL — Taking the position that a wider dissemination of what goes on at their public meetings could result in the spread of false information, members of the Board of Health voted Tuesday night against having their meetings televised on the town’s local cable channel.
“I’m not in favor of doing it,” stated board chairman Alfred Buckley flatly when the request was made by Cable TV Advisory Committee member Richard Potts who attended the Feb. 15 meeting along with fellow member David Pease.
“Neither can I,” added Board of Health member John Marriner in support of Buckley’s position. “Everybody plays to the TV instead of telling the truth.”
Marriner went on to argue that claims made at public meetings could be taken at face value by a viewing audience and then spread around town before subsequent hearings had a chance to prove that the information might have been false.
“Then, when things blow up, the board takes grief for it,” concluded Marriner.
As an example, Marriner said that a local restaurant might appear before the board over some complaints made against it. That could result in lost business for the restaurant when there might not have been any grounds for the original complaints.
“I have no argument against that,” replied Potts. “That’s fine, but these meetings are public meetings. If there’s a question of sensitivity over an issue, then the board should take it up in executive session.”
But Buckley and Marriner refused to accept the point, with Buckley placing the responsibility of attending the board’s meetings to find out what was going on squarely on residents.
“Sometimes people are too darn lazy to come down to meetings,” declared Buckley.
In a prepared statement, Potts argued strongly in favor of televising the board’s meetings which take place in conference room A at Town Hall, which has been wired for cable television.
“Your committee is a public body, conducting important business of our town in a public meeting,” stated Potts. “Especially in winter, many of our senior citizens cannot attend these public meetings in person and instead they rely on the broadcasts to learn of board discussions and deliberations that may directly impact them. Anyone else who can’t make the specific 7 p.m. meeting at Town Hall is affected as well, that includes working folks, commuters, and people with conflicting family obligations.
“Ten years ago, Town Meeting voted to purchase the equipment that has been installed in Town Hall to broadcast and record public board meetings.
“Voting not to broadcast and record your meetings may not be an ethics violation, but voting ‘no’ is a clear statement that not all Pepperell residents will be allowed to be informed of the business of the town’s Board of Health,” continued the statement. “This is the United States of America, even thinking about voting on this is an embarrassment to our town.”
Potts told board members last Tuesday that with the equipment already installed in the conference room, the process of preparing their meetings for broadcast would be simple. At the start of a meeting, the recording device would need to be turned on and afterward, someone from the cable channel would stop by to retrieve the disk, which would then be used to air the meeting on television.
Potts said that the Cable Advisory Committee has been struggling to improve the town’s cable access and one of the goals is to bring as much of local government to the people as possible, including the Board of Health.
“My feeling is that these are public meetings (and should be televised) even if things get misconstrued,” Potts told board members at last Tuesday’s meeting. “By broadcasting the meetings, you will promote transparency in our local government.”
Still refusing to agree to put the board’s meetings on television, Buckley nevertheless temporized by suggesting that perhaps it might be allowed further “down the road.”
Parting ways with his fellow board members, Phillip Durno sided with Potts.
“These meetings are open to the public,” said Durno, who currently serves on the Cable Advisory Committee with Potts and Pease. “In the winter for instance, it gets dark early and some people don’t like to come out at night, particularly senior citizens. And even if the meetings aren’t put on TV, word about them still gets out. I personally am for broadcasting.”
But Durno’s argument failed to sway Buckley and Marriner, who sided against him in voting down the request to televise the board’s meetings.