Geoff Folsom

The Union R-XI School District and the city of Union have both opened taxpayer-funded headquarter buildings in the past year. Now it’s time to let more taxpayers see what goes on inside.

The buildings feature modern meeting rooms for the school board of education and the board of aldermen. As of now, neither make the meetings available on video for the public.

This can cause a problem when we have situations like we did Monday, Aug. 3. The school board was making a decision on what to do about educating students during the coronavirus pandemic, while the city had a personnel, finance and public works committee meeting.

We were shorthanded and Kristen Dragotto, who usually covers the school board, had a meeting to cover in Washington that evening, leaving me to choose between the school and city meetings. I knew the school decision was more crucial, but I figured we could follow up Tuesday morning. Plus, it seemed like an easy decision for the board to just go with the recommended blended home and online curriculum put forth by Superintendent Dr. Steve Weinhold at a workshop the previous week.

So I went to the city meeting. While the information being put forth wasn’t as urgent as the back-to-school vote, I got several stories out of it on issues like the proposed Union Expressway and the cancellation of baseball tournaments. And, quite frankly, making sure we have enough to fill the paper is key.

Well, I felt pretty foolish Tuesday morning when Kristen told me the school board voted to send all students to class five days a week, unless they opt to go to an all-virtual platform. The divided 4-3 vote indicated a lot must have happened.

It would have been nice for us, and you, to go back and watch the meeting to see how this unfolded. But the board doesn’t make meetings available. And it’s not like it is working out of an antiquated facility. Union R-XI just opened the new administration building last year, paying $1.5 million to buy the building, plus $297,700 for renovations.

The school district also is opening a new elementary school and launching other high-tech projects. I think putting the meetings on YouTube wouldn’t have broken the bank.

The city also hasn’t been posting video of meetings online recently. The board of aldermen met socially distanced for several months in the cavernous gym at the city auditorium, making video recording difficult. For a while, the meetings were on Zoom, but there was only one camera at the meeting, so if someone was speaking 20 feet away, it was tough to hear.

But now the board meets in the state-of-the-art meeting room at the new city hall, which is wired for all kinds of teleconferencing.

The good news is the city already is discussing filming the meetings. It would be great if it could show them live, either on the internet or local cable, but posting them on YouTube is fine, as long as they are put up promptly and linked to from the city website.

Oh yeah, and the board needs to avoid editing the meeting videos, as one alderman suggested (jokingly, I think).

Not everyone can make every city or school meeting, especially those in vulnerable categories for the coronavirus, so it’s important to give them other options. And, as public entities, they should strive to be as transparent as possible.