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San Diego Transit System Pledges To Post Audio Of Board Meetings

Photo caption:

Photo by Megan Wood / inewsource

A blue line trolley departing from America Plaza, May 10, 2016.

In a move praised by advocates for government transparency, the Metropolitan Transit System has agreed to start routinely posting audio of its board meetings online.

The Metropolitan Transit System, San Diego County's largest public transit operator, agreed this week to start posting audio recordings of future board meetings to its website.

MTS has long posted written minutes of board meetings, but often not until more than a month after the meeting takes place. MTS agreed to post the audio at the request of KPBS News, starting with its next board meeting on Sept. 15.

The MTS board of directors is composed of 14 local elected officials and one chairman appointed by the other board members. They hold the authority to approve contracts and budgets, hire the CEO, set his or her salary and approve changes to fares and service routes.

Peter Scheer, director of the nonprofit First Amendment Coalition, said MTS should be commended and other agencies should follow suit.

"Those agencies that continue to refrain from posting that kind of content to their website really have no excuse," Scheer said. "They need to get with the program and come into the 21st century."

Scheer added that in the past, some public agencies have argued that regularly posting audio or video to their websites would be too burdensome, but that current technology makes it easy.

Photo by Andrew Bowen

MTS board members sit in a meeting on April 14, 2016.

State law does not require local government agencies to record their meetings, or even to keep written minutes, though many are required to do so by local law. Donna Frye, a former San Diego councilwoman and a board member of the transparency group Californians Aware, said not all agencies can be trusted to do the right thing.

"There are other government entities that, I believe, prefer being as obscure and inaccessible as possible so that people actually don't show up at their meetings," Frye said. "They like not having the public coming out and taking up their time."

Transparency for public transit agencies is especially important as local governments look for ways to reduce San Diego's dependence on cars, said Colin Parent, policy council for the pro-transit group Circulate San Diego. San Diego's Climate Action Plan expects the city to drastically increase public transit ridership as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"The Climate Action Plan will require a lot of rethinking for how we manage transportation and land use in San Diego," Parent said in an email. "Advocates and the public, and even city of San Diego staff, need easy access to information about what happens at MTS board meetings."

The city live streams all City Council meetings, as well as various committee and commission meetings, and posts the video online shortly thereafter. The San Diego Association of Governments, which plans transportation across the county, does the same with audio of board meetings.

The North County Transit District, MTS's counterpart in North County, does not post audio of its board meetings. A spokeswoman said in an email that the agency's website does not have the capability, but that she would keep the idea in mind for the future.

MTS has recorded board meetings since 2009, and audio of past meetings is available on request. MTS policy states the recordings must be kept for at least two years.

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