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Editorial: Keep live-streaming government meetings

Editorial Board • May 12, 2020 at 10:00 PM

Many local governmental bodies — the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen among them — already were streaming their meetings before COVID-19 made live video a necessity. Others had to play catch-up.

Luckily, streaming and video conferencing capability has improved significantly in recent years. It’s user friendly and accessible. Between Facebook and YouTube and such conferencing platforms as Zoom, anyone with a smartphone or other device can go live.

To paraphrase an old axiom, necessity often is the mother of innovation. In tough times, people get more creative as they work to find solutions, and sometimes, they stumble onto something meaningful.

The more accessible a government is to its constituents, the more effective it will be. Open government is core to our republic, and openness is especially important in times of debate, strife and crisis. An informed citizenry is an empowered citizenry.

It’s possible that many of our local boards are more accessible than ever in light of the sudden need for online meetings. Citizens do not have to leave home to watch and listen. Parents need not find a babysitter. If a meeting is recorded and preserved online, they can watch at their convenience and rewind for clarity. Some boards have not taken the step of preserving videos for access after a live stream ends. They should.

That’s not to say that attending meetings in person is unimportant. Elected and appointed officials must be able to look their constituents in the eyes as they make hard choices. Citizens must be heard in public hearings and comment periods.

Our reporters do a wonderful job, in our view, of keeping readers informed about their governments, especially in explaining the details behind decisions — both before and after meetings. We strive to offer both concise explanations and context. Nothing will ever replace solid community print journalism.

But these new electronic means are another tool in the box for the public’s access to government. That should not end when this crisis finally subsides. Boards who were not streaming before COVID-19 should keep doing so.

While returning to full-access meetings, all local governments should continue to provide online video service and make the recordings available for review later.

Accountability is essential, and that arises from an abundance of access.

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