Sauk County government may soon make more records of its proceedings easily accessible to the public, although the push for greater transparency has been met with some resistance.
Sauk County Board Chairman Peter Vedro of Baraboo, who pledged to enhance openness when he was elected to the position last April, said he wants more committees to begin recording their meetings.
“My goal is to work with each committee and (information technology staff) to set up a simple process to make all meetings open and available,” Vedro said in an email.
The county has recording equipment installed in two rooms within its West Square Building in Baraboo. Since 2012, the county has contracted with an online archiving company called Granicus to publish meeting recordings and documents online.
Those who pushed for more recording argued that many county committee meetings are difficult for working citizens to attend because they occur in the morning or afternoon.
While the board and some of its committees have faithfully used the Granicus archiving system, others have not. And several that don’t record meetings have major oversight responsibilities within county government.
For example, employee wages and benefits make up more than half of all county expenses, yet the board’s Personnel Committee does not publish recordings of its meetings. The panel meets in rooms that have recording equipment installed.
The board’s Law Enforcement Committee oversees the Sauk County Sheriff’s Department, which utilizes about 40 percent of the county’s property tax levy. The committee meets at the Law Enforcement Center, a 5-minute drive from the West Square Building, and has never recorded a meeting.
Sauk County Administrative Coordinator Alene Klzeczek Bolin has begun to ask committees that don’t currently record to consider whether they would like to begin doing so.
She said several already have made decisions, and others, including the Law Enforcement Committee, are expected to do so in the near future.
The county’s Highway and Parks Committee, which oversees about 15 percent of the county’s property tax levy and typically meets at the highway shop in West Baraboo, has never recorded a meeting. However, that’s about to change.
The committee voted 4-1 on Wednesday to begin using an iPad to record its meetings.
Supervisor Brian Peper of Loganville cast the only no vote. “It’s overrated,” he said about recording public meetings, prompting laughter from several others on the committee.
Another county panel voted unanimously against recording its meetings last week. The Sauk County Health Care Center Board of Trustees decided Thursday there wasn’t an urgent need for it.
The board oversees the county’s taxpayer-supported nursing home in Reedsburg, and recently took steps to begin researching what it would cost to build and manage a new assisted living facility on adjacent land.
Supervisor Bryant Hazard of Baraboo, who serves on the panel, said members didn’t see a need to record meetings, but would do so if instructed.
“We opted not to go down that path unless somebody says they want us to do it,” Hazard said.
He said recording and uploading videos with an iPad would be a new burden on staff and that using additional storage space could add expenses. Kleczek Bolin said there is no added charge for increasing the number of recordings uploaded to Granicus.
Supervisor Tim Reppen of Baraboo, another health care center board member, said the group was told the iPad must be transported from the nursing home where meetings occur back to Baraboo after each meeting so the video files can be uploaded, which sounded too cumbersome.
When asked why the panel couldn’t simply use a cell phone to make an audio recording of its meetings and upload that to Granicus, as others have done, Reppen said that option wasn’t presented. He said he may request further discussion about that at a future meeting.
The county’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, which oversees new programs designed to address the root causes of criminality, also has decided not to record its meetings.
Although some of the committees that don’t record do upload meeting documents to Granicus, they don’t remain available to the public because of a kink in the system. The documents appear online up until the time of the meeting, but disappear from public view after the meeting if a recording is never uploaded.
Vedro said recent decisions to not record are counter to the direction he believes the county should be moving in and that he will work to address the issue moving forward.
“It’s overrated.” Supervisor Brian Peper of Loganville, voting against recording public meetings