Why did chairman veto broadcasting commissioner meeting?

Recordings of Alamance County’s commissioners might not be “Must See TV” for most viewers. But they do have their devotees – and the county has generally been quick to assuage this faithful home audience with prompt uploads of the meetings convened by the county’s governing board.

Aside from the board’s annual retreat, which hasn’t been video or audio recorded for the past two years, all of the board’s meetings are routinely livestreamed and posted on YouTube, where they can be accessed for years after they originally air. This custom not only applies to the board’s regular bi-weekly meetings but also to its special budgetary sessions.

In fact, visitors to the county’s YouTube channel can still find the board’s two-day review of departmental budget requests from 2021 and 2022. They can also peruse a pair of budgetary “work sessions” from 2023, when the county’s management formally did away with the traditional procession of departmental requests.

Yet, anyone interested in viewing the board’s latest budgetary work session, which took place in the county’s regular meeting chambers on Monday, can scour every nook and cranny of the World Wide Web without finding the slightest hint that the meeting was broadcast.

That, in effect, was the experience of commissioner Pam Thompson, who came up empty handed when she tried to locate video footage of the work session later that day.

“I kept looking for it and looking for it,” Thompson recalled in a subsequent interview. “So, I texted [county manager] Heidi [York] and asked her if the meeting was livestreamed. She said that, at the direction of the chair, it was not.”

As it turns out, John Paisley, Jr., the chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners, had instructed the county’s administrators not to livestream that particular meeting.

In an interview with The Alamance News, Paisley conceded that he gave York this directive because he wanted to make sure that the county’s information technology staff remained focused on the installation of a new electronic filing service for the local court system.

“The new e-filing system goes into effect on Monday,” he recalled in an interview Wednesday, “and our IT folks need to put that in place. So, they’re very busy. . . When Heidi called me about broadcasting the work session, I solely made the decision not to broadcast [the work session], and we didn’t discuss recording [it].”

Paisley went on to express some surprise that the meeting wasn’t recorded at all for posterity, although an employee in the county’s IT department later confirmed that the staff had been told not to video record the proceedings. Meanwhile, Alamance County’s clerk Tory Frink acknowledged that she had made an audio recording for her own internal use.

York told the newspaper that she had initially voiced some misgivings about Paisley’s instructions when the two of them discussed the matter ahead of the work session.

“I told [Paisley] that we’d be in the [board’s regular] meeting chambers so it wouldn’t be a problem [to livestream]. But he said it’s the chairman’s call. And I said that ‘when I get reamed in the paper, I’ll tell them you said that.’”

– County manager Heidi York

“I told him that we’d be in the [board’s regular] meeting chambers,” she recounted in an interview Tuesday, ‘so it wouldn’t be a problem [to livestream]. But he said it’s the chairman’s call. And I said that ‘when I get reamed in the paper, I’ll tell them you said that.’”

In any event, some of the earliest criticism of Paisley’s decision came not from the news media but from Thompson, who took the board’s chairman to task in a Facebook post once she discovered his role in the livestream decision.  Although both she and Paisley are up for reelection this fall, Thompson insists that her intention in calling the chairman out over this issue was to ensure that the public has full access to the proceedings of Alamance County’s commissioners.

“I thought, ‘you know what?! This is very important. We’re spending the people’s money, so they should be able to access the meeting. Every meeting that we have should be recorded, unless it’s a closed session.”

– County commissioner Pam Thompson

“I thought, ‘you know what?! This is very important,’” she said. “We’re spending the people’s money, so they should be able to access the meeting. Every meeting that we have should be recorded, unless it’s a closed session.”

Paisley admits that, in retrospect, he’s actually inclined to agree with Thompson’s assessment.

“It was a bad decision. But hindsight’s 20/20, and if I had the decision to make over again, I would’ve said ‘okay IT folks, you need to suck it up.’”

– County commissioner chairman John Paisley, Jr.

“It was a bad decision,” he confessed. “But hindsight’s 20/20, and if I had the decision to make over again, I would’ve said ‘okay IT folks, you need to suck it up.’”

Even so, the board’s chairman chides Thompson for turning his regrettable lapse into a “campaign issue.” He adds that, as they are both among the GOP’s nominees in this year’s race for the board of commissioners, he and Thompson should follow Ronald Reagan’s “11th Commandment” to “not speak ill of any fellow Republican” and instead focus their fire on their Democratic antagonists.

In the meantime, Thompson’s ire over the livestream debacle has fed into another, ongoing dispute that she and Paisley have had over the chairman’s role on the county’s governing board. Thompson contends that this particular episode demonstrates that Paisley should be more attentive to the wishes of the board’s other four members whenever he acts on behalf of the group.

“If he didn’t want to have this livestreamed, the four of us should also have been consulted,” she said. “It’s almost like being a king than being a chairman.”

But far from seeing himself as an autocrat, Paisley insists that he’s merely trying to make the best choices he can in circumstances that don’t always leave him at leisure to check in with his colleagues.

“It was a last minute decision – literally,” he added with regard to the work session’s dissemination. “I didn’t think about calling the other commissioners. Sometimes as chairman, you have to make a decision right then.”


Read the newspaper’s editorial page views on the issue of broadcasting and recording county commissioner and other public meetings:  https://alamancenews.com/no-reason-public-meetings-shouldnt-be-broadcast-they-should-at-least-be-recorded/