People could soon access online audio recordings of each South Bethany Town Council meeting. The Town is researching methods to potentially post audio files online.
“One of the things I heard during the election process was people wanted greater access to these meetings,” said Council Member Derek Abbott, who initially suggested live-streaming video of the meetings, “to further the goal of transparency and inclusion, and give other people ways of what’s going on.”
It could be as simple as live-streaming to Facebook or complex as buying cameras with high production quality.
Other council members at the June 27 workshop said they preferred to start with audio recordings and see how that works.
South Bethany already records council meetings. Audio files are accessible as a public record under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). However, individuals must submit FOIA requests to Town Hall in order to receive a portable USB drive with the audio file. (Towns may change for certain supplies, and the $10 charge for the brand-new thumb drive is partly a cybersecurity measure. Town Hall no longer allows people to bring outside drives to be plugged into Town computers).
Some other public bodies also post audio or video online. Sussex County Council meetings are broadcast by live video. Bethany Beach town council meetings have live video that is also available online after the meeting. By law, all school boards must post audio online within one week of the meeting, and the Indian River School District uses SoundCloud.com to do that.
“It’s literally just moving a file on to the website,” said Abbott. “It seems to me to be a relatively easy step for access and inclusion.”
It can help ensure every nuance is recorded, even if official written minutes don’t report every detail.
Discussion will continue at the July 12 council meeting.
Changes proposed to council procedures
Having only served as town solicitor since November, attorney Stephani Ballard has been familiarizing herself with, and offering recommendations on, town policies.
“We’re having our attorney look at some of these things to make sure we’re not crossing places where we shouldn’t,” concerning the town charter and state law. “So, she took a look at both the Rules of Procedure and the Committee Guidelines,” Mayor Tim Saxton said.
The biggest proposed change to their Rules of Procedure would be to reduce the required readings of any proposed ordinance. (Currently, the town council must review or “read” a proposed ordinance at three different meetings before voting it into law. Some towns require two readings, while others have one.)
Ballard did not attend the June 27 meeting, but Saxton shared her concerns about the Committee Guidelines.
“One of her big points is this: Committees are only recommending bodies. They can do nothing without the approval of town council,” including directing town staff or resources, Saxton said.
“I don’t see a problem” occurring now, said Council Member Dick Oliver, and others agreed. If the town council approves an initiative, such as hosting a movie night, they usually understand the staff’s roll in that, he said, and Town Manager Maureen Hartman should be directing staff, as empowered by the council.
“I have had more problems with residents going to staff and directing them to do things, especially lately,” said Hartman, emphasizing that the staff is sometimes too busy with their regular duties to jump on another task.
Residents should only be making requests, not orders, Abbott said.
Although “our attorney’s not the biggest fan of committees,” she did not ultimately recommend changing any of them, Saxton said candidly.
“This Town would be in trouble without committees,” said Council Members Sue Callaway and Carol Stevenson, and Saxton agreed.
Both councilwomen took issue with the proposed removal of detailed rules for ad hoc, versus standing, committees.
“Where is that information? … It just seems to me there needs to be a place it’s all worked out. It’s taking away the guidelines,” Callaway said.
“We’ll have Stephani come and explain what she wants to do and why she wants to do it,” Saxton said.
Another proposal would reduce the committee reports from a monthly written report to either “verbal or written, at the option of the committee chairperson, and made at least quarterly.”
“Is that eliminating our monthly committee reports? … That’s a change for us,” Stevenson said.
“To me, this gives us a little bit broader ability to do things,” Saxton later said of the overall document. “Part of her goal was to loosen up some of the tightness, so we have a little bit more flexibility in what we’ve been doing.”
Ballard is new to representing South Bethany, and she does not represent other coastal towns, said Hartman.
“She has seen things that weren’t being done in the towns she worked in, so she’s brought it to the mayor or to me,” Hartman said. “I’m not saying it’s right or wrong. It’s just different.”
“She’s very protective of the town. … I’m not saying you have to change this. I’m bringing a recommendation from the town solicitor after her review. … She wants to make sure we’re not caught in a situation and get our hands slapped with a FOIA thing, or we’re not overstepping the bounds of what our charter says we can do.”
Discussion will continue at the July 12 council meeting.
In other South Bethany news:
• As South Bethany begins planning to improve 14 beach crossovers (three every year), they’re considering a batch of low boardwalks, which are less obtrusive and less expensive than the proposed elevated walkways with railing. The barely-elevated boardwalks would lead from the road to the dune, and the roadside stairs would be replaced with gently sloping sand.
The goal is easier overall access, but the resulting crossings will not meet the official ADA code for accessibility.
South Bethany only has one official handicapped-accessible walkway, as required and installed by state and federal guidelines. That zigzagging walkway takes up enough dune space that the Town probably wouldn’t be allowed to build another one.
Discussion will continue at a future meeting.
• Road repairs will be limited to the original plan of repairing Bristol Road this autumn. Fenwick Island recently decided to skip a more complex road project, which South Bethany had briefly hoped to piggyback on, possibly combining resources for a more affordable project for both parties.
The South Bethany Town Council’s next regular meeting is Friday, July 12, at 6 p.m.
By Laura Walter