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In Princeton, a public meeting on Zoom that the public can’t attend

The governing body for the municipality of Princeton holds its public agenda sessions at 11 a.m. on Tuesdays twice a month at a time when most people are at work and can’t attend the meetings, which are currently being held on Zoom.

There are no video recordings of the public meetings, and there are also no audio recordings, even though recordings are regularly kept for boards and commissions in the municipality until minutes are approved. Planet Princeton has asked officials a few times why no video recordings or audio recordings are kept, first asking in Jan. 27 in an email to Council President Leticia Fraga and Mayor Mark Freda, but a reason has never been given.

On Tuesday, Aug. 3, and also on July 12, both before the meeting and during the meeting, there was no Zoom link to the meetings, at least not when this reporter and several residents tried to log on just before and during the meetings. On both Aug. 3 and July 12, just before the meetings, there was no public Zoom link or agenda listed on the town’s website. They appeared on the website after the meetings were over. On July 12, officials met for more than an hour. On Aug. 3, officials met for about 25 minutes.

The municipal clerk said on Tuesday after the meeting that the vendor that provides the “IQM”2 service for the municipality went down, but the agenda and link had been posted Monday afternoon. The clerk said she has no control over when the provider’s system goes down, but that the municipality is looking into finding another vendor.

Below is a video of our attempt to log on to the Aug. 3 meeting. We tried on several browsers and devices, and several other residents tried on other computers.

These meetings should be recorded on Zoom and shared on the town’s YouTube channel just as other public council meetings are — for transparency’s sake, in the event of difficulties, and so that the public can watch the public meetings later.

Walter Luers, the top public records and public meetings lawyers in the state, said the Princeton Zoom incidents are just an example of why the state needs to update its 1970s-era Open Public Meetings Act. He said that considering the availability of commercial technology that can record, stream, and store audio and video recordings, the Open Public Meetings Act should be updated to require public agencies to do so.

“Except during a declared state of emergency, public agencies are not required to broadcast, stream, record, or maintain audio and video recordings of meetings. Thus, attendance and public participation can be knowingly or inadvertently manipulated,” Luers said. “If streaming were required, then the failure of the technology described by the public agency would have required that an alternative be used or the meeting suspended.”

10 Comments

  1. Time to get back into the Municipal building – show proof of vaccination, wear a mask, and sit every other seat. Council members can share the upper dais and the lower (commoners level) table. As I recall eveyone one at the dais ran on a platform that called for ‘transparency.”

  2. A town with a budget of what, $66-$67 million can’t make zoom meetings happen? Or won’t? And officials don’t seem to care? Hmmm. And yes, what happened to the promised transparency?

  3. If Trump were conducting business like this, Princeton Democrats would be holding protests on Hinds Plaza. But if local Democrats do it, then it seems that it’s fine. Does no one in our government realize the hypocrisy at work here?

  4. Plus a recent change in a government where there is absolutely no diversity of thought

  5. What has this got to do with party affiliation? I’m a democrat and I don’t like it either?

  6. While the technical problems are annoying, we should recognize that council has increased transparency by opening the agenda sessions to all council members and providing public notice and access to the sessions. As the article points out, the law does not require these meetings to be recorded. The Legislature should revisit the Open Public Meetings Act and make appropriate modifications in light of the changes in technology since the law was enacted.

    1. The technical problems are more than annoying. They are essentially making it impossible for the public and the press to attend meetings that are public. The council opening agenda sessions so that all council members could attend and drive the agenda (which under the borough form of government the mayor sets). Just because the law does not require the meetings to be recorded doesn’t mean the town shouldn’t be recording and posting them if officials care about transparency as they claim during campaign season and at other times. It’s understandable if the issue happens once, but twice within a month and no one seemed fazed and the reaction was just to shrug. Most other agencies have figured out how to run Zoom meetings this far into the pandemic. If the public can’t get on a meeting then the meeting should be canceled and held when the public can have access, like the planning board meeting earlier this summer. The public having no access to the online meeting would be like the council meeting in person and the public waiting outside being told they aren’t allowed to come in because the door is broken, and but the meeting will go on anyway.

  7. It has to do with party affiliation because it is true, Dems in town will be at Hinds Plaza, they will have speakers, they will go on and on and on if the other party were doing this, but because it is they and they act as if they own the town, they disregard the complaints and the promised transparency goes to hell in this “special” One Party town.

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