College may end practice of recording meetings
By Jason Stuart
Ranger-Review Staff Writer
The Dawson Community College Board of Trustees is considering pulling the plug on recording its monthly meetings.
Trustee Bob Stanhope first broached the subject at last Monday night’s board meeting, leading to a discussion in which several board members voiced their opposition to making audio recordings of board meetings.
“I just think it’s overkill,” Stanhope said. “I don’t think it’s needed.”
Trustee Don Kettner said he was adamantly opposed to recording the board’s meetings, calling making audio recordings of them “very dangerous.”
Trustee Alan Sevier likewise voiced opposition to making audio recordings of meetings.
“I don’t think it serves a useful purpose,” Sevier said. “I think there’s more potential liability having every conversation recorded than there is any usefulness.”
Board members intimated they were concerned about the recording of off-the-cuff remarks and conversational asides made during the course of meetings that members of the public might misinterpret. Board chairman Jim Squires alluded to that concern.
“We have to respect the open meeting law, but we’d also sometimes like to have the chance to freely converse,” Squires said.
Squires went on to say that he believed the audio recordings could be harmful or helpful, depending on the situation.
“On the one hand, it could be used to misrepresent, but on the other hand, it could be my best defense if I’m accused of something,” he said.
Trustee Chad Knudson was the lone board member to speak out against the idea of ending audio recordings of meetings.
Knudson said that there was “a greater risk of distorting the record” by not recording the meetings and instead relying on transcribed notes and people’s subjective memories of what was said.
“I think sketchy notes are worse than a transcript,” Knudson added.
Montana law does not require public boards and other entities subject to the state’s open meeting laws to make audio recordings of meetings. Transcribed meeting notes are the standard requirement of record keeping, and must be kept even if an audio recording is made.
If an audio recording is made, the body holding the meeting has the option of making it the official record of their meetings and it must be made available to members of the public for review upon request.
Montana law also states that members of the press are allowed to make audio or video recordings of public meetings as long as the activity doesn’t interfere with the meeting’s conduct.
The majority of local public bodies do currently make audio recordings of their meetings.
In addition to the DCC board, the Glendive Unified School Board andthe Glendive City Council record their monthly meetings, though not their committee meetings. The monthly meeting recordings are available to the public upon request by contacting Glendive City Hall and the Glendive Schools business office.
Glendive Schools Superintendent Ross Farber said the audio recording – though the GUSB opted “a long time ago” not to deem it as the official record – does provide at least one profound advantage.
“For us, we can go back and hear how a motion is really made,” Farber said. “If there’s a lot of people talking at the same time, you can kind of miss who made a motion (in the written transcript).”
Currently, neither the Dawson County Commissioners or the Dawson County Economic Development Council make audio recordings of their meetings.
The DCC board decided to table the matter for further discussion at their March meeting.
Reach Jason Stuart at firstname.lastname@example.org.