With opportunities like the Village Citizens Academy coming to Shorewood in 2017, and plans to continue them in the future, we the Editorial Staff believe it is becoming ever more important that these and other village government endeavors are as transparent as possible.
One of the easiest ways the village can attend to this concern with the Citizens Academy is by recording its sessions and making them easily available to the public. The village board has been recording their monthly meetings since August, and this has positively contributed to the transparency of Shorewood’s local government. The Citizens Academy should be no different.
Unfortunately, for at least its first year, the Citizens Academy sessions will not be video recorded. The entire initiative nearly failed when it came up for a vote before the village board earlier this year due to objections to the program necessitating video recording of the sessions. Only after a motion by Davida Amenta, village trustee, which removed the requirement for video recording but mandated that the board vote only on whether or not to video record the sessions after the first year, did the program get approved. In our opinion, the vote against the program because of objections over video recording, was reckless and endangered an important program. Video recording should, in the 21st century, be viewed as the norm, not the exception. Video recording should not have jeopardized the fate of a valuable program.
In our minds, there is no question of whether the Citizens Academy program is valuable, as we believe it will allow people to engage with and understand their local government better as well as encourage them to become more active on the crucial committee level, where much of the work in the village gets done. However, we call into question the effectiveness of this program when, at this point, it only reaches a select 20 people. The program will only be worth the money if presented to a wider audience. Just 20 community members exposed to the valuable information planned to be put forth in this program is not enough, considering the village has the resources to cast a wider net.
Since the investment of video cameras for village board meetings has already been made, recording the Citizens Academy sessions and posting them on the village’s YouTube channel would be easily possible. While there were objections to video recording of the program on the grounds that attendees may be uncomfortable asking questions and that the village should have the sessions professionally recorded and edited, we do not find these arguments to be reasonable reasons for not recording the first year of the Citizens Academy. As other trustees have suggested, simply turning off the video camera at the end of a session for 15 minutes of questions would solve the issue of attendees being uncomfortable. Further, any form of video, professionally recorded or not, is more beneficial than no video, especially when the village has the current capability. The goal of this program should not be to limit the experience to those admitted to this academy, but rather to publish the discussions and information to as many people as possible. Exclusivity is not beneficial to this new program, and the village board should look to record Citizens Academy sessions and other functions of village government to make these sessions accessible to all community members who wish to learn more about how their local government functions.
(Graphic by Max Janairo)