Interest in video recording District 233 board meetings continues among some board members, but others, citing legal concerns, costs and long-term maintenance issues, again shot down a recent proposal to begin the practice.
The Homewood-Flossmoor High School board last voted on the issue in September 2019. In a 2-1 vote Thursday, Nov. 12, the board’s Planning Committee members Debbie Berman and Nate Legardy voted against examining the issue again. Member Pam Jackson was in favor. Without the committee’s approval, the question will not be addressed by the full board.
For months, Homewood-Flossmoor District 233 meetings have been accessible through phone and Zoom internet services. Board members Beth Larocca and Annette Bannon saw this as an example of how videotaping meetings could continue after the COVID-19 pandemic.
During a Committee of the Whole meeting in October, they and Jackson asked that the proposal for videotaping be re-examined. They pointed to Zoom and webinar use that is making school board meetings available to the public giving full transparency to discussion, votes and actions by the board.
They pointed to Flossmoor District 161 videotaping meetings and said several H-F residents have been petitioning for videotaping.
The issue was sent back to the Planning Committee where chairman Berman said she didn’t understand the need to re-examine the issue.
“Nothing has changed. The legal risks are real. They’re there. We had two separate law firms reach the same legal opinion. Costs are still there, taping, storage, website compliance, closed captioning. Given the fact that nothing has changed, I think people in the community are probably wondering why are we revisiting this for the fourth time in three years.
“The only thing that has changed, since the last time we had this discussion with the exact same composition of the board and the committees is this is now an election cycle. That is the only thing that has changed,” Berman said.
Legardy wondered, “If nothing’s changed I’m just not sure why we’re spinning our wheels.”
The Chronicle sought comment from Larocca and Bannon who are up for re-election in April. Bannon responded saying:
“It is surprising to hear a fellow board member has the perception that ‘nothing has changed,’ aside from an upcoming election cycle. It is further disappointing to discover that in addition to that opinion, a personal twist about rationale was made in an attempt to possibly discredit other board members.”
Bannon said she has been an advocate for videotaping since before being elected to the board in 2017, adding, “I will continue to be an advocate for total transparency, which includes videotaping our board meetings which encourages community engagement."
Larocca told the Chronicle she doesn’t consider videotaping to be a campaign issue. Larocca said, “I continue to strive for greater transparency and I feel that videotaping improves transparency.”
Berman noted that making meetings available via Zoom hasn’t resulted in any increased community attendance.
She urged fellow board members to stop their comments about lack of transparency, stressing: “It’s incredibly dangerous and irresponsible for board members to accuse other board members of not wanting transparency by not wanting videotaping.”
Jackson abstained on the 2019 vote because she was a newly elected board member and felt unfamiliar with the issue. Now, as a Planning Committee member, Jackson said if the issue got a full review before, “I don’t know that I’ve seen any of the numbers or detailed data. I don’t know the costs. I’ve done my own research and the cost is not exorbitant, so I just would want to put a summary together for the public” to know what information the board had in making its decision.
Bannon and Larocca told the Chronicle they too have not seen a cost analysis.
Berman agreed that a report on videotaping could be done, but she wouldn't ask administrators to spend time on that when they are faced with so many educational issues due to COVID-19 and plans for reopening H-F.
Legardy said taking time on the videotaping issue is “a little bit frustrating because we can’t even jam into our agenda the things that need to be jammed in. I’m OK with pushing this (videotaping issue) to the side because the entire board has already acted on this officially. If there’s new information that people want to bring forward that’s fine, but I’m OK with pushing this to the side.”
The Planning Committee will have a special meeting in December to review several items it couldn’t address in the Thursday meeting.