Livestream video glitch kept public out of Newberry Twp. budget meeting

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

The Newberry Township Board of Supervisors held a budget workshop meeting without a functioning livestream video and without allowing the public to attend in person, officials confirmed.

In a statement Wednesday, township manager Tony Miller said there was a technical glitch that stopped the video from streaming live on YouTube, even though the software indicated the stream was functioning properly.

"The application we use had all indications it was streaming and recording," he said.

Miller said he did not receive any emails from the public during the meeting alerting him to the streaming error.

The video is now available on the township's YouTube channel, and Miller apologized for the inconvenience to residents who wanted to watch the meeting in real time.

The township will "make every effort to determine what happened" and prevent it from happening again, he said.

The Newberry Township Municipal complex Friday, Jan. 3, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

Even if the video mishap was unintentional, the lack of access still disadvantaged members of the public and deprived them of their legal rights, said Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association.

"If an agency is going to rely on technology to facilitate public access, they have to be absolutely sure the technology works and continues to work throughout the meeting," she said.

Also, technology doesn't provide public access to people who don't have internet service, Melewsky said. There are a significant number of Pennsylvanians who will automatically be excluded from public meetings that are conducted only online, she said.

The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act requires that members of the public be allowed access to any public meeting of a public agency, aside from a handful of legal exceptions that allow closed meetings.

Public meetings at Newberry Township have been closed to in-person attendance during the COVID-19 pandemic because of the small size of the meeting room and state-mandated social distancing requirements, officials have said.

The live video stream has been an effort to accommodate public participation.

The board was scrutinized last month over its decision to boot a member of the public from the in-person meeting because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Miller said the board voted Tuesday to start allowing members of the public to attend meetings in person for the purpose of making public comment. There will be a process to allow one person at a time into the meeting room, to abide by social distancing and room capacity requirements, to make comments or ask questions, Miller said.

Details about the exact procedure will be posted to the website soon, he said, and it will go into effect at the next board of supervisors meeting Nov. 24.

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