Board Clashes Over Filming Public Meetings
Would you watch meetings on Mahwah's public access channel?
Tempers erupted after the Mahwah Planning Board found unexpected technologies at town hall during its meeting Monday night. Two large flat screen televisions were flanking the board at the front of the room, and a videographer from the township’s cable access channel, Mahwah Community News, taping the meeting.
“What is all of this? These TVs are blocking exits and we were not asked about someone taping the meetings,” Board member Jeremiah Crean said during the work session. Others at the meeting explained the new technologies, which other board members agreed were not expected at the meeting.
New mayor Bill Laforet and the township’s zoning official Gary Montroy explained the televisions, which were on loan from the Sharp Electronics plant off of Route 17 in Mahwah.
“The Board of Adjustment requested a laptop and a projector to project maps and other images onto the screen built into the room,” Montroy explained. “We have gotten both of those,” but installing them is taking time due to a video conferencing camera that is blocking their implementation, he said.
Montroy said his office made a last-minute call to Sharp so that the maps presented during the scheduled Crossroads public hearing could be displayed in the future. The hearing was postponed until January, but according to Montroy, “if you want to do it again, I think Sharp would loan us the TVs again, and we should have the time to set them up so they don’t block anything.”
Laforet said Montroy and his department arranged for the televisions in an effort to be “transparent,” and allow for members of the audience to see the maps and plans being presented to the board. He thanked Montroy and Sharp for coordinating the drop off and set up of the televisions.
The board agreed the increased visibility was a positive change.
However, there was a bit more disagreement over the MCN filming. “I was asked by one of your board members to come film,” videographer Peter Wendrychowicz said. Board member Ward Donigian later revealed he had made the request, and implied that board members who were upset by the filming were “trying to hide something” from the public.
“I think it would have been nice if this was discussed first,” Crean said.
“I don’t think anyone objects to having these filmed, but it would have been a courtesy to discuss it with us, or at least let the Chairman know,” Board member Ellen Stein added. "We are supposed to work together."
Board Chairman John Brotherton admitted he was “surprised but not offended” by the filming.
By the close of the meeting, the board unanimously voted to allow MCN filming at its meetings. The board also approved having the videos archived in the library, as public meeting minutes are. However, the question of whether or not the board should have been asked prior to being filmed remained debated.
MCN volunteers in the past have said putting entire meetings on the air would be too costly and time consuming to do. However, the possibility of MCN running Planning Board and other meetings recently resurfaced as a campaign issue during the recent mayoral and council elections.