The Oconee County Board of Education currently has no plans to live stream its meeting, according to Anisa Sullivan Jimenez, director of Communications for Oconee County Schools.
The Board of Education switched from virtual to in-person meetings for its July 20 meeting and live streamed that meeting, but Jimenez said on Aug. 3 that future Board meetings would not be live streamed.
Board Member Amy Parrish had indicated on Aug. 4, however, that the Board had discussed returning to live streaming and that the issue had not been resolved.
At the Sept. 17 virtual forum for Board of Education candidates, all four candidates, including incumbent Post 4 Board Member Tim Burgess, said they want the Board to begin live streaming its meetings.
None of the current five members of the Board of Education has responded to a request for an explanation of the decision not to live stream meetings.
Laura Ormes, running for Post 4 on the Board in opposition to Burgess, and Joan Parker, running for the open Post 5 position, said Thursday that they would agree to put live streaming of meetings on the agenda if they are elected on Nov. 3 and vote in favor live streaming.
Michael Ransom, also seeking Post 5, has not responded to two requests that he indicate his willingness to push for live streaming of Board meetings.
At present, the Board is meeting in person in a small room in the Administrative Office Building at 34 School Street and is restricting admission to meetings to Board members, Superintendent Jason Branch, members of his administrative cabinet, and invited guests, Jimenez said.
Jimenez said a spot is reserved for a reporter from The Oconee Enterprise and for me or someone else representing this blog.
I am not willing to risk attending the meetings myself because I am immunocompromised. My doctors have said if I am exposed to the virus I almost certainly will get COVID-19.
Sarah Bell and Philip Ashford have attended and recorded meetings in my place, but neither will be able to do so regularly and consistently in the future.
I wrote Jimenez on Thursday morning and asked her for an update on “plans for live-streaming BOE meetings?”
She responded a few minutes later by saying “We do not have plans to live-stream our public Board meetings at this time.”
“Please let me know if you will have someone recording the meeting(s),” she wrote subsequently. “We do have a spot for your camera person in the back corner.”
I wrote to each of the School Board members, using their official email addresses, just after 3 p.m. Friday, asking them “Can you give me your explanation for this decision?”
I did not receive a response from any of the Board so resent the message just before noon on Saturday.
Again, I have received no reply.
Background Of Decision
The Board of Education began meeting remotely with its April 13 work session and continued to do so until July 20, when it held its first in-person session after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Beginning with the April 13 meeting and through the July 20 meeting, the Board live streamed its meetings via the school system’s YouTube Channel.
Jimenez sent me a notice just after noon on Aug. 3 indicating that the meeting that evening would be in-person and not live streamed.
I sent an email message to all five Board members, using their official, published email addresses, at 1:30 on Aug. 3 asking them to discuss the decision at their upcoming meeting and to reverse it.
No one answered my email, and I followed with Board Member Parrish just after 5 p.m. on Aug. 4, using her personal email and asking her if she had received my request.
She responded 45 minutes later, saying she had received my earlier email and “We did have a discussion about this last night. As is often the case, it is not as simple as it appears.
“For most of the meetings that were streamed, Board members were working remotely so the set up was easier for that format. As we learned with the last meeting in July, the set up with most of us in person did not have as good a quality,” she continued.
“I watched the play back and had difficulty hearing some of it. We realized last night that to put out the best quality and garner the least amount of complaints we would need to do some research and invest in equipment. We might also need to create some new operating protocols,” she wrote.
“I think right now, though I would like to be able to tell you yes let's just turn it on, it requires a more thoughtful and planned out approach,” she wrote.
At the Sept. 17, candidate forum that I organized in collaboration with three other citizens, Andrea Wellnitz asked all four candidates: “Do you support live streaming these meetings?”
All said they did. Burgess and Ransom are running as Republicans. Ormes and Parker are running as Democrats.
I sent an email to Ormes, Parker, and Ransom on Friday night asking them, “If elected, will you commit to doing the following:
“1. Putting this on the agenda for an open discussion at a regular meeting of the Board of Education, with advance notice of the agenda, so citizens can come to speak or send comments in advance?
“2. Making a motion for the Board to begin live streaming of Board of Education meeting immediately and voting for that motion?”
Both wrote back on Friday evening and said they agreed with the two requests.
I did not hear from Ransom so resent the message just before noon on Saturday.
He also did not reply to that message.
Collaboration With Enterprise
Julia Fechter, a reporter with the Enterprise who regularly attends the Board of Education meetings, wrote me just after noon on Friday.
Fechter asked if I “would be open to coordinating a way to live stream BOE meetings in the future, since OCS has not said they will do so on a more permanent basis.” OCS is for Oconee County Schools.
Fechter and I have agreed as a first step to work together to video record sessions and make them available on my Vimeo site as quickly as possible after the meeting takes place.
At the same time, we will explore options for live streaming the meetings as well.
BOC had its OC government YouTube channel well before COVID-19. Most county boards throughout the state at least record meetings, if not live stream them. And now, banning the public from meetings due to COVID-19 - but still not providing a recording of the meeting - is fishy. If the best excuse is ‘the quality isn’t the best, so we’re not going to do it at all’ - well, that’s either nonsense or a sad inability to grasp what’s most important.
BOE planned DCES at the county line without involving BOC; now they’re planning its neighboring middle school without involving the public too. Regarding DCES, having all school traffic coming from one direction isn’t the best, but BOE went ahead with that. Having to have the county relocate gas lines - costing taxpayers well over $200,000 - isn’t the best, but BOE went ahead with that. So despite the meetings’ video quality not being the best, let’s go ahead with that too.
Typical of current BOE, the farther away from the citizens the better. Even a poor quality stream is better than no stream. I hope the voters notice. The lack of response to emails is also typical of them. Sorry to see Mr. Ransom doing this.
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