Discussing live streaming of meetings

Ringgold Mayor Nick Millwood (left) and Mayor Pro Tem Terry Crawford look on during a Sept. 25 discussion about the legalities of streaming City Council meetings on social media via Facebook Live. (Catoosa News photo/Adam Cook)

Ringgold's mayor and City Council, a month after initially starting the conversation of whether to steam meetings over social media via Facebook Live, are looking into the legalities of the matter as it relates to open records requests.

Although members of the council seem open to the idea of streaming the board's meetings on Facebook Live every two weeks, there is some trepidation: Officials want to make sure they're doing things efficiently and by the book.

The legal aspect of how to archive and store the meetings and comments, if streamed on Facebook, is one of the main concerns.

"It's a new wave kind of thing and that the city attorney feels like the attorney general needs to make a decision about open records ... to say here's how we're going to do this," City Manager Dan Wright said in a work session prior to the Sept. 25 City Council meeting. "We want clarification on how to handle that data. Right now that information, I assume, stays on Facebook. We don't have an agreement with them like we do Accela (the company that stores the live stream of the city's meetings from its website). They have to provide everything to us in a certain format. I don't think Facebook is on the same legal requirement that we are."

In public meetings, City Clerk Nicki Lundeen has a protocol: Speakers give their name and address, and then notes are jotted down pertaining to what they spoke about, for or against an agenda item.

"We capture and document that," Wright said. "Our question is, do we have to capture all those comments? Our concern is how do we handle this six months or a year down the road if there's an open record request and then we can't find the information? We're just on some new ground here. How do we protect this stuff for the future? Print it out, screenshot it?"

Mayor Nick Millwood made a good point: Even if a thread is printed out, people can still continue to add to the thread, or even delete something they've already posted.

Councilman Randall Franks said that one of the biggest issues to consider is the city responding to posts or comments from the public, and how to defend against false claims online.

"If everybody (the council) agrees to do it, somebody has to be prompted that if there's information going out, or somebody saying something that's not true, then it has to be the responsibility of somebody in this city to go back and correct that," Franks said. "Whether it's talking about the city council...that's the mayor's job because you (Millwood) are the spokesman of the city council. If it's about city government, then it comes out of Dan's office. Somebody has to correct...it can't just be left out there hanging, false information, or misinformation allowing our people to think something that's not true."

Mayor Pro Tem Terry Crawford suggested tabling the matter until more information can be gathered. During the meeting there was no need for any motion, as the item can remain in the old business section of the agenda for the next meeting.

"At this point, we still don't know all the legal liabilities," Crawford said. "Why don't we just hold off on this until we get some more answers? ... I don't think anybody has been opposed to doing it as long as it's done right. But right now we don't know what's right or what's wrong at this point.

Moving forward, officials are in agreement that they want clarification about what to do and how to handle an open records request of a live stream if they were to get one in the future.

"We're going to seek feedback on it," Millwood said.

Adam Cook is a general assignment reporter and covers the Walker-Catoosa County area. He has been a reporter since 2009. He can be reached at The Catoosa County News office at 706-935-2621 and by email at acook@npco.com.