New J e
e L d
Tips for public officials
governing at public
meetings that are video recorded
ROBERT J. SHANNON, Township Administrator, Wyckoff
As more local governments enter the social media age and join the swelling ranks of governments
conducting business digitally, the need to provide elected officials and employees with
“best practice” guidelines are growing exponentially. Maintaining efficient and effective service
within the confines of government regulation necessitates constant vigilance and leadership.
Increasing public access
demise of a weekly community newspaper and a great reduction
Wyckoff demonstrated such leadership when in 2014 it invited
in actual reporting by other outlets.
taxpayers to conduct business on-line, from the ability to make
We wanted to ensure the public would have the opportunity
tax and sewer payments as well as commuter parking permits,
to observe the governing body conducting the business of its
registration for recreation programming and volunteer and
local government. Among other concerns, we needed best
employee applications. Information seekers may also submit
practices to mitigate against a possible Title 59 tort claims of
Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests by simply completing
allegation or advocating of a specific action, or vitriolic
the request form online and clicking send.
comments that could invoke reciprocal responses.
In addition to providing online services, our website organizes
The search for best practices
municipal records in a single prominent location, from budgets
to labor agreements to all elements of the municipal master-
We recognize leadership as a practical skill which includes the
plan. The strategic use of technology increases public access
ability to guide individuals, teams or an entire organization.
and improves convenience for residents, allowing the public
Successful leadership requires appropriate planning and prepa-
the opportunity to conduct business with their local govern-
ration. If preparation is the cornerstone of success, developing
ment at times they find convenient and not simply during
best practices for achieving success is critical.
regular business hours.
In preparing our best practices, we used various resources,
In 2019, the governing body decided to further increase
including the municipal excess liability/joint insurance fund
public access when it allocated funds for the purchase and
library and our colleagues in other local governments. When
installation of technology to live-stream and post video recording
over the course of our research we didn’t find best practices,
of governing body meetings on our website, we knew we needed
we developed our own.
a “best practices” approach. The use of this technology was
We first placed written notification at the entrance to the
chosen to invite greater public access when faced with the
governing body meeting room stating: “notice is provided that
I January 2020
When the Camera’s Turned On:
Lights, Camera, Action
Suggested Best Practices
In accordance with P.L. 2002, Chapter 80, approved September 2002, the public has an
opportunity to bring matters to the attention of the governing body which the “speakers”
the township committee meetings are
believe are of concern to the residents of the Township of Wyckoff. The law states,
video and audio recorded and those
“for public comment on any governmental issue that a member of the public feels
recordings will be posted on the munici-
may be of concern to the resident of the municipality.”
We provide these guidelines to members of our governing body and to staff in
We also modified our Open Public
attendance at the council meetings:
Meetings Act (OPMA) annual notice,
1. Always remain civil and professional in demeanor. Do not al ow a speaker to bait you
48-hour notices and special meeting
into losing your temper.
notices or rescheduled meeting notices
2. When a speaker al eges a situation which they believe is hazardous, simply let them
to ensure that the agendas posted and
continue to provide remarks and advise them that their comments wil be forwarded to
mailed for compliance with the OPMA
the appropriate department for review. If the intent of the comment is not clear,
include a statement that township com-
ask questions to develop a clear understanding.
mittee meetings are video and audio
recorded. We also post the OPMA
Try to remain expressionless (e.g., do not rol your eyes) even when outrageous
statements with broad generalities are stated.
notices on our municipal website.
Finally, we changed the template for
4. Do not rustle papers on the dais, it impacts the quality of the audio recording.
township committee agendas so they
5. Do not verbalize comments to the person sitting next to you or verbalize your
include the following notice to the public:
opinion to yourself–they wil be heard on the audio recording and depicted in the
As a visitor attending this public meeting,
video recording. When in doubt, don’t say it!
your presence and attendance may be
6. Refrain from creating noise. For example, do not move one’s chair, tap one’s foot, etc.
recorded. By remaining in the meeting
7. Do not tap the microphone. It may damage its functionality. Please say “check”
room during the meeting, it is assumed
or “test” to see if your microphone is working properly.
your consent is given if your image is
8. Refrain from eating snacks while seated on the dais, chewing wil be depicted in
the video recording.
There may be situations where, due to
9. The chair shal have the responsibility to recess the discussion to alert or caution
technical difficulties, live streaming or
members of the public that the fol owing actions wil impact the quality of the recording:
the recording of a meeting may not be
a. Speaking from their seats
available. The township shall not be
b. Rustling papers
responsible for and accepts no liability
c. Noise from moving chairs
in the event that the recording or live
d. Similar audience inappropriate court room demeanor
video streaming of the meeting is
10. Once a speaker has concluded his/her remarks, the chair would request that the
next speaker come forward.
This is us
11. Do not text, read or type emails while on the dais. Put your phone away. If you
Local government operates under sig-
must access your phone to check your availability for a meeting date under discussion,
nificant state and federal regulation not
you could simply state, “I am checking my calendar.”
often required of private businesses, or
12. Be aware of the potential perceptions of your actions on the dais. If you exit your
even of the state and federal govern-
seat to obtain a drink etc. And/or if you do it numerous times during the meeting
ments. The responsibility of providing
you wil convey a perception that you are not providing the appropriate attention or
officials and employees with up to date
commitment to your municipal responsibilities.
“best practices” and guidelines is
13. When a member of the public comes forward, the mayor wil ask the member of
increasingly important in delivering the
the public to speak into the microphone and state their name and address. (Note: the
most effective service in a climate of
municipal clerk cannot complete the meeting minutes in a thorough and complete
decreasing personal face-to-face interac-
manner without the name and address of the citizens who choose to speak.) If a
tions with residents.
citizen refuses to provide a name and address, s/he wil be al owed to speak. The
Is a little bit of a sense of community
municipal attorney states that citizens are asked to provide their name and address
lost as we move forward? Possibly, how-
so that the governing body may have a chance to reply to comments after the meeting
ever, being able to provide more conve-
should it deem such replies necessary.
nient service and access to municipal
14. When in doubt, don’t say it. Video recordings of meetings wil be posted online
government to our increasingly busy and
and preserved. For example, your comments in January can be compared to your com-
mobile residents is important. e
ments later in the year or in future years: When in doubt, don’t say it.
15. The most effective best practice I received was from a respected col eague who
Bob Shannon has served as the Wyckoff
suggested videoing a governing body meeting before the official start of the program
Township Administrator since 1984. He
to provide the governing body the opportunity to critique themselves as a practice
writes and lectures on a variety of municipal
session before beginning the program. We utilized a practice session successful y.
issues, including ethics, internal controls,
purchasing, and the governing process.
I recommend it as a best practice.
I January 2020