By Rick Miller
There was some debate by Cattaraugus County lawmakers on Oct. 18 over whether to begin recording all committee sessions.
“The time has come to record our meetings,” said Legislator Vergilio “Dick” Giardini, D-Allegany, in a presentation to the Public Safety/County Operations Committee.
Giardini, who is chairman of the Public Works Committee, said he would propose all committees record their meetings in the future. A secretary records Public Works Committee meetings and prepares minutes. The vice chairman of other committees take brief notes.
“With a recording, no one can say ‘that’s not what they meant’ or ‘you misunderstood me,’” Giardini said. “If we say something, we’re held to it.”
Asked whether the proposal to begin recording committee meetings stemmed from the baseball field issue, Giardini replied that “it stems from a lot of different stuff. We should be held responsible for what we are saying.”
Giardini was among legislators who felt the $550,000 baseball field improvement program was misrepresented by sponsors who spoke of matching funds.
“We might be exposing ourselves to a can of worms,” said Legislator Dan Hale, R-Portville.
County Attorney Eric Firkel said the recordings would be “FOIL-able,” meaning the public could file a Freedom of Information Law request for the recordings. It would require an amendment to the rules of order to require committees to record meetings.
“A recording device is likely to alter discussions,” said Legislator Joseph Snyder, R-Ischua. “It probably will change our behavior. I’m undecided whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing. I’m not sure whether it’s going to help us or hurt us.”
Giardini said it would cost around $5,000 for the recording equipment, including a permanent device in the large committee room at the County Center in Little Valley and a mobile recorder for the County Office Building in Olean.
Hale asked how long the recordings would be kept.
County Clerk Alan Bernstein indicated the recordings should probably be kept for a year.
Legislator Barbara Hastings, D-Allegany, said this was “progressive thinking. I understand the reluctance, but at the same time, we are public officials and accountable to those who put us in office.”
Legislature Chairman Paula Stockman, R-South Dayton, who also serves as South Dayton village clerk, said most town and village clerks record board meetings.
“They do it for an accurate record of what happened” and “for accurate minutes,” Stockman said. “I don’t know if they get FOILed.”
Bernstein said state law indicates recordings can be erased after they are no longer needed. There was also a recommendation that recordings of hearings involving significant issues be retained permanently.
“There’s got to be accountability,” insisted Giardini.
The Public Safety/County Operations Committee voted to proceed with the purchase and installation of the recording equipment.