A special meeting hosted Wednesday night by the Long Beach Community College District Board of Trustees that aimed to serve as a platform for public discussion on its proposed communication policy started with an awkward moment, as members of the public found their prepared statements were addressing a document that had undergone another round of changes prior to the meeting.
Board President Doug Otto said the ad hoc committee, one headed by himself and Trustee Irma Archuleta, met Tuesday night to hammer out additional changes to the policy, one that had been amended late last week after public pushback alleging that it threatened the first amendment rights of the faculty and the public. The decision not to upload the amended document, Otto said, was made to avoid confusion.
“We had hoped that we would finish our work before late yesterday afternoon,” Otto said. “The committee spent a lot of time on these recommendations but the decision was made today to not post on Boarddocs, which is where most of the public gets their information, because we felt that it would be so confusing that people wouldn’t know which document they had.”
A printed version of the document was available for the handful of those in attendance and Otto granted a brief review period as well as instructing the school’s director of communications, John Pope, to give a brief overview of the revisions made to the document.
Pope noted that since the policy was revised late Friday afternoon, the ad hoc committee opted to do away completely with social media guidelines that outlined best practices for trustees’ use of technology to reach constituents. It also made minor changes to wording regarding speaking with the media or meeting with constituent groups on campus to reflect that trustees are—“as a courtesy”—asked to notify the Superintendent-President’s office, a departure from the original wording which said trustees were “expected to."
Another major change was in the policy’s section regarding the scheduling of community meetings. Trustee Sunny Zia had unsuccessfully pressed for a provision that would ban meetings from taking place in districts that were up for re-election within six months of the ballot date, claiming they could represent a sort of in-kind campaign contribution for those running for re-election. A meeting has already been held in the board’s second district, which is in the middle of a campaign between Archuletta and Vivian Malauulu, a journalism professor at the college, something that Malauulu described as “manipulative” and an inappropriate use of tax dollars.
The amended policy reflects Zia’s suggestion for the six month black-out date on meeting schedules.
Those issues were main points of contention for members of the public, who viewed those practices as possible “chilling effects” if Superintendent-President Eloy Oakley’s office would have to be made aware of media contact or be involved in coordinating meetings with constituents, especially in cases that may have involved criticism of the college or the board.
In public testimony during its December 8 meeting when the policy was first up for approval by the board, some went as far as to say they felt that parts of the policy were crafted to thwart Zia in particular from communicating with the public and the press.
Carolyn Byrnes, a resident of Zia’s district pulled no punches in asserting her view that the policy was meant to “stifle” Zia’s interactions with the public. She spoke again Wednesday night, and although generally appreciative of the board’s revisions to the policy, she urged it to reconsider its stance that live-streaming meetings was out of the board’s budget, as free streaming options are available.
The policy noted that the technology and hardware needed to provide that service would create an ongoing commitment of $145,000 annually and recommended that the board continue its practice of uploading recordings of its meetings within 72 hours to its YouTube channel. The meetings are re-broadcast on Charter cable channels 15 in Long Beach, 29 in Lakewood and on Verizon Fios channel 45.
Uduak Ntuk, a community member and alumni of the college, agreed that the gap in live meetings and when they’re disseminated to those who couldn’t be in attendance could use some shortening. But like many in attendance, he expressed gratitude for the board taking the public’s voice into consideration when revising the policy.
“Sometimes some videos come up three weeks later and if you weren’t at the meeting and you want to know what happened,” Ntuk said. “You have to wait for the next meeting for the minutes to be approved or wait for the video to be uploaded.”
Attendance, something that is sparse at best during most of the board’s meetings was pointed out as another mark that could be improved upon. Morgan Barnard, a faculty member at the college, asked how Wednesday’s meeting had been publicized, as he motioned to the mostly empty room that included a handful of people lined up for public comment.
He said the only way he found out about the meeting was through the school’s website, something he said most people don’t regularly visit for news updates. Barnard suggested the use of social media, given the recent changes from the original policy, would serve as useful tool to inform more people of meetings and to possibly increase engagement.
“How was this meeting announced?” Barnard asked. “There aren’t many people here. Obviously it’s off cycle for faculty, staff and students. Social media is a great way to get the word out. I encourage the board to consider how to use social media to really get the word out to the constituents to really make sure these meetings are happening.”
The board’s next meeting, scheduled for January 26 at 5:00PM, is expected to be the next time it takes up the issue of the communication policy. The item is scheduled for final approval on the college’s BoardDocs’ portal, where the board’s agenda is uploaded prior to meetings.