The Montezuma County Commission has agreed to draw up a $9,600 contract with Mesa TV to live-stream county meetings, and rebroadcast edited versions at a convenient time.
Although the deal’s stated purpose is to provide more access to meetings, it raises questions regarding Colorado open records law.
Currently, the county live-streams the commission meetings on its website, but does not record or archive them. For the past year, Mesa TV has been live-streaming the commissioner meetings free of charge on antenna channel 30.6 by tapping into the county’s video feed.
The county has verbally agreed to draw up a contract to pay for the live-stream.
“We would like to grow as a business, and the more local content the better,” said Mesa TV CEO Jedekiah Coy.
Commissioners and Mesa TV discussed that an edited version of the commissioner and planning meetings be replayed over the weekend, which would require the meetings be recorded.
“The attraction for me is rebroadcasting at a better time,” said commissioner Keenan Ertel. “It should just be the meat and potatoes of the meetings. We’re willing to give it a try and see if the public picks up on it.”
However, according to Colorado open records law, if a government initiates an electronic recording of a public meeting, it becomes public record. “Tapes, recordings and digitally stored data” of meetings by local and state government fall under the definition of public records, according to Colorado public records law.
“It’s a no-brainer that the recordings of the meeting are public record,” said Ashley Kissinger, a media attorney with the law firm Levine, Sullivan, Koch, Schulz, which represents newspapers across Colorado.
She said that hiring a third party to record the meeting does not exempt commissioners from releasing the digital recording if requested by the public or news media.
“It would be up to the county to get it from the company,” Kissinger said.
The open meetings law also states that if a local public body electronically recorded the minutes of its open meetings on or after Aug. 8, 2001, they must continue to do so.
“It is our position that once they start, they cannot stop,” Kissinger said. “The reason is that when the public sees the tapes and becomes more critical, (the government agency) cannot stop recording.”
In an email, Montezuma County attorney John Baxter stated that “the County will not have possession of Mesa TV’s broadcasts or recordings.”
In an interview, Baxter said the county is aware of the public records issue regarding the video recording of the meetings. He said providing those records to the public will be considered when drawing up the contract with Mesa TV.
On the issue of video recording all meetings once it is done after Aug. 8, 2001, Baxter said the county’s position is that it does not have to as long as they continue with the regular policy of written minutes.
Montezuma County Clerk Kim Percell said the live video stream of weekly meetings on the county website is not recorded, and therefore is not available to the public. Written minutes of the meeting are available. Regarding whether taped video recordings would be released from the pending Mesa TV contract, she said “I will do what state statute requires.”
Commissioner Larry Don Suckla preferred Mesa TV promote county events as part of the deal, but it was agreed the pending contract should focus on broadcasting meetings. Currently, the county provides a YouTube link to some public hearings. On its official county website, it posts videos of private events such as car races, wrestling tournaments, dog shows and gun shows.
“I’m more interested in coverage of our many events at the fairgrounds and others like the 12 Hours of Mesa Verde bike race,” Suckla said.
Coy said covering events would be an extra charge.
The TV station, created by Coy and Charles Boyd, made its on-air debut in March 2015, working out of a studio in the Family Worship Center in Cortez. The TV station currently highlights programming such as news from Israel, Native American news from California, news of spiritual outdoor adventures from Tennessee, and news cast from Cortez.
News anchor Stuart Hanold, a local pastor, said segments of the county meetings could be incorporated in the station’s regular news broadcast.