Following a tense election in November fought partly over the issue, one of the first things Orono’s new leaders have done is to start taping the city’s planning meetings.
The City Council last week unanimously voted to videotape Planning Commission meetings starting Tuesday, despite the fact that most commission members opposed the taping.
“They didn’t sign up to be on TV,” Mayor Dennis Walsh said. “But from a philosophical point of view, I just believe you need open government.”
The council’s decision was a reversal of its vote last year, when it split 3-2 against videotaping the planning meetings with then Mayor Lili McMillan and council members Jim Cornick Jr. and Lizz Levang opposing it.
All three were defeated in November when voters chose Walsh to succeed McMillan as mayor and elected Richard Crosby II and Victoria Seals to the council.
Although Orono City Council meetings are videotaped, some council members made the argument last year that taping planning meetings was different. Residents of the upscale Lake Minnetonka city must go to the meetings to make housing requests, and one view was that the exposure would make them uncomfortable.
Unlike other cities’ planning commissions, which review mostly commercial requests, Orono deals almost entirely with residential requests. Moreover, Orono’s Planning Commission members, who are appointed, make recommendations and leave approval to the City Council.
Before the election, council members Walsh and Aaron Printup were the only ones supportive of videotaping meetings, saying it would help city government be more transparent. The issue surfaced during the contentious fall campaign, with anonymous fliers criticizing McMillan, Cornick and Levang for their votes against videotaping.
Planning Commission Member Kevin Landgraver told the council before last week’s vote that the commission was concerned that videotaping would intimidate residents when they appeared before the commission. But two residents said taping the meetings would show the discourse that doesn’t make it into the public record.
Videotaping the Planning Commission will cost Orono $80 for a two-hour meeting plus an annual charge of $880. Among neighboring cities, Wayzata, Excelsior, Plymouth and Minnetonka videotape planning commission meetings and put them online. Other cities, such as Shorewood, do not.