Harbor District’s Tucker pushing to eliminate videotaping of board meetings, says “stars” are acting “dramatically”

[Note: By a 3-2 vote the Harbor Commission decided to immediately terminate the videotaping of their meetings and to explore options for an audio-only podcast. For the immediate future it appears there will be no public recording made of Harbor Commission meetings.]

Commission Jim Tucker of the Harbor District has proposed eliminating video recordings of Harbor District meetings and to substitute a “podcast” format utilizing a pocket audio recorder. In his view certain people are abusing the existence of the video. He calls them “stars” and says that they are acting “dramatically,” and that they “‘viscously” exercise their rights when speaking. He doesn’t like the “flair.” He doesn’t like the “drama.”

Strangely, after watching Harbor District meeting videos over the past six months, it appears the people he is referring to are elected officials from other Coastside governing bodies. Tucker may not recognize them as such–for decades the Harbor District board has flown under the radar of both the general public and politically interested citizens on the coast. The District is quite unaccustomed to scrutiny, let alone dissent. I’m sure it is uncomfortable to find new faces in the audience voicing alternative opinions when one is used to working in an “go along to get along” environment.

Though Tucker doesn’t say it, the primary target of this blinding of the public is yet another attempt to muzzle the new face on the board itself, Sabrina Brennan. The board spent the better part of its last meeting (yet again) talking about ways to curtail her uncomfortable questions. It’s a sort of game. Brennan’s questions–often quite basic to the functioning of the harbor–are automatically routed to legal counsel instead of staff even though the questions are not legal ones in nature. The lawyers bill for the time and then the board complains about the cost of her questions even as the answers to her questions are delayed and sidestepped. Another game: You spend hour after hour in meetings avoiding questions and debating ways to box Brennan into a corner and then complain that she is causing meetings to run on too long.

Let’s put things into perspective. Brennan won her seat in 2012 with over 120,000 votes. That figure is far above that of the next highest vote getter on the board, Pietro Parravano who received almost 89,000 that same year. And Tucker? Despite having served the District since 1998 he was only able to muster 71,000 votes in his last election in 2010, nearly half of Brennan’s total.

What has happened is simple. The quiet, insular Harbor District has been noticed by the public at last. And they don’t seem to like all that they see. People are paying attention now, educating themselves on the issues, pondering the future of the harbor. Democracy is a messy, sometimes unpleasant thing. Tucker may not like that fact and may hope to return to the good old days but I suspect that will prove impossible. The community cares about Harbor District issues and the community is resourceful. We’ll get the information we need whether Tucker helps us or not.

Jim Tucker’s explanation for recommending that video recordings be terminated at Harbor District meetings, as printed in the August 21st agenda of the Harbor Commission:

When the District decided to use an audio/visual recording format for our meetings I looked forward to the community getting a visual and timely record of our proceedings. As the former Mayor and Councilman for the City of Daly City I was familiar with recorded meetings. The one concern I had was that this new procedure might be abused by some. However, I felt that the newness of this experience would quickly pass and our meetings would run as if we were not on television. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. Currently, our meetings are considerably longer than usual and we seem to have created “stars” for the viewing screen. All of a sudden we have members of the audience “dramatically” and at times “viciously” exercising their rights. I welcome public participation, but it now seems to have a “flair” and drama consistent with those who expect to view themselves on television. This is not productive for the District or, quite frankly, for the community either. I suggest an alternative.

It is important to keep in mind the need to communicate with the public, as well as to keep an accurate record of the meetings. What I suggest is both as informative and more cost effective. Podcasting is not new. Some city councils use this form of meeting recordation currently. Staff will be able to suggest several large companies that specialize in Podcasting, should the one listed here not be acceptable. I believe that the Olympus DM-620 (in your materials) offered at a price of $150, will work nicely. This full service system, with its necessary accessories costing about an additional $350, would easily take care of our need and desire to record the meetings and offer them to the public online in a timely manner. Of course, it would be sound only and no pictures. There is an ongoing monthly cost with the current recording system. A Podcast system would be a one time expense of approximately $500. The learning curve to use the system appears quite short and I have no doubt that our staff will have no operating problems.

I suggest staff be instructed to report back to the Board with possible programs of a Podcasting nature that we may consider. Until that time we should continue the current system.