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.”