Just My Opinion – Transparency or Smokescreen from the Swanton Village Council
At the end of the May 25th Swanton Village Council meeting, following an executive session when most of the public had left, Council President Craig Rose asked to bring something up that was not on the agenda. He proposed to his fellow Council members to have Village Administrator Rosanna Hoelzle look into purchasing video recording equipment to record Council meetings and place the recordings on the Village’s website to “give the public access to what we do here.” Mr. Rose added it would involve one camera and “some” audio. No comment was made about possible editing.
As a group, the Council had a positive reaction to the recommendation. “I think it’s a great idea and it will help us move further, especially from the discussions that have created a lot of animosity throughout the community,” said Councilman Tony Stuart.
Unsurprisingly, this proposal into increased transparency came with several stipulations. “What I’m proposing is we have a video. It’s going to be not a live feed at all. We kind of looked into possibly doing it on the website. We’re not going to be sharable. Somebody can go to the website to view this video. It won’t be anything where people can sit there and do live comments or anything of that nature,” said Mr. Rose explaining the restrictions of his proposal.
To be clear, this suggestion would be a major step down from live-streaming which was made necessary when state-mandated COVID-19 procedures prevented in-person Council meetings and left live-streaming as the only option to keep the meeting available to the public as required by the Ohio Revised Code (ORC). Because it was then realized that live-streaming made the Council proceedings available to so many more people regardless of where they may be located or when they were able to watch, it was recommended by Mayor Neil Toeppe and supported by many citizens to continue with this method once in-person meetings were allowed again.
From then on, every time the issue of making live-streaming standard operating procedure for all Village meetings was placed on the meeting agenda, it was summarily rejected by Mr. Rose and not allowed to be brought to a vote. Initially, he said there was not enough interest by the public. When that was disproved, he said it was too costly. Later, when Council was informed the cost would be covered by a private citizen or COVID Relief funds, Mr. Rose cited liability issues and a concern the Village could be sued for defamation, even if the alleged “defaming” remarks were spoken by someone in the audience. When Village Solicitor Alan Lehenbauer found no concrete examples of that ever happening in the State of Ohio, Mr. Rose garnered enough votes from Council to remove the mayor’s report as a standard item on the agenda, thereby eliminating Mayor Toeppe’s ability to bring up live-streaming in the future.
This really begs the question “Why the near reversal in Mr. Rose’s stand on an issue he so vehemently opposed in the past?” Does he now see the light or does he feel the heat? With Mr. Rose’s council seat up for election this November and the growing clamor for more accountability from our elected officials, my money is on the heat. I cannot believe he has suddenly experienced an epiphany and finally realizes the importance of transparency in local government. It is more likely he was made aware of a petition being circulated to put the issue of live-streaming on the ballot this next election, letting the Swanton voters decide and not the Village Council. A voter approved ordinance would remove that authority from the Council. Mr. Rose may have also heard that the group behind the petition is also soliciting for qualified candidates to run for the four open Council seats this Fall. More specifically, his and Councilman Mike Rochelle’s.
Regardless of his motivation, what the citizens of Swanton would do well to keep in mind is what Mr. Rose and the Council will allow in one meeting can just as easily be taken away in the next. As we witnessed this past January when Mayor Toeppe had his report removed from the agenda and his advisory position on several committees eliminated, the Rules of Council can be conveniently manipulated to serve only the Council rather than the people of Swanton.
Are we to believe Mr. Rose is sincere in bringing transparency, although limited, to the Swanton Village Council or is this just a smokescreen that he hopes will help him retain his seat and his control of the Council for the next four years? For the Swanton constituency, it will come down to a matter of trust. Will you trust Mr. Rose enough to follow through on the transparency issue as well as any other promises he may make between now and November? Then ask yourself this. How has he been working for you so far?
Pictured: Swanton Village Council President Craig Rose