Spring Garden: Audio recordings of meetings 'not public record'
Spring Garden Township commissioners’ meetings are now being audio recorded, but those recordings will not be made public and will be destroyed shortly after they're made.
That's according to new township manager Marcy Krum-Tinsley, who claims the audio recordings are "not public record and will be destroyed following approval of the written minutes.”
Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, said such recordings are indeed public records.
“It becomes public record as soon as it’s created,” she confirmed. “You may have to file a formal Right-to-Know request, but they are public from the moment of creation, and the public should be provided access to creation.”
However, Melewsky said nothing in state law prevents the township from destroying the recordings, but it’s not the “best policy to employ.”
The commissioners earlier this month unanimously approved the use of audio recordings only to “aid in drafting” public minutes, Krum-Tinsley said.
Meeting minutes are a written, legal record of what occurred during a public township meeting or hearing and are required by state law. They become public at the commissioners' next meeting once commissioners approve them.
The purpose of the audio recordings is to “capture motions” for accuracy, township solicitor Steven Hovis said at the Aug. 8 meeting when the policy was approved.
The audio recordings would provide for clarifications specifically addressing what was talked about instead of having to rely on memory, Commissioner John Luciani said.
“It could also help me correct what I thought I heard,” he said.
Four months ago, Commissioner Dan Rooney quarterbacked the idea of posting additional public information beyond what’s already published on the township’s website.
Certain documents fit legal parameters for public information, such as ordinances, agendas, meeting minutes, budgets, proposed budgets and adopted budgets online, Hovis said in April.
At Rooney’s urging, the board of commissioners agreed to post additional records online, including township reports and studies, at the board's discretion. Commissioners passed it with a unanimous vote.
Rooney supports making the audio recordings public, as well, pointing out that other municipalities across the commonwealth provide video recordings for residents who can’t attend meetings.
He mentioned the new building complex commissioners have been developing, noting that the overall transformation of the township's new administrative digs could potentially include equipment for audio and video recordings.
“I would support the idea of putting audio and, or, video recordings of the meetings on the Township website,” Rooney said in an email. “I would like to do some research before proposing. It is a big step for Spring Garden Township.”
As Rooney noted, recording public meetings is not unusual.
For example, Springettsbury Township audio records its board of supervisors’ regular meetings, public hearings and work sessions.
The recordings are available on the municipality’s website “in audio format for a period of 12 months from the date of the meeting,” according to Springettsbury Township.
However, Springettsbury Township Manager Ben Marchant explained the Pennsylvania Municipal Record Manual for Local Government Records require "recordings of public meetings used in preparation of the official minutes" to be retained "until the official minutes are approved."