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Our View: Keep streaming our meetings

Part of our responsibility as Cloquet’s only locally based newspaper is to attend local government meetings and report back to you. It’s a primary function of local journalists, and we take that responsibility very seriously. That’s why we send reporters to attend every Cloquet City Council meeting, every Carlton County Board meeting and many school board meetings in Esko, Carlton, Wrenshall and Cloquet, as well as other government meetings. Citizens need and rely on the Fourth Estate as watchdogs to ensure our government is working openly and transparently.

So we were excited to see local governments open their meetings back to the public, after more than a year of pandemic-related remote meetings. Esko has been allowing the public to attend its school board and township meeting for a couple of months, and the city of Cloquet plans to allow the public to start attending meetings next week.

Since we attend most government meetings, we can tell you that public attendance is often quite low. Many times, no one is in attendance except us. Unless there is some particularly controversial issue — hockey anyone? — it’s usually not more than a handful. For the Duluth TV stations to show up, the issue must be wildly controversial, and even then, they get their shots and often leave well before the meeting is over.

But we noticed an encouraging sign during the pandemic, when most meetings were held remotely via Zoom or other teleconferencing: more of the public seemed to be attending. William Bauer, the Cloquet school district technology support specialist who's been livestreaming the meetings on YouTube, told the school board that each meeting online attracted between 20 to 30 viewers. That’s far more than in-person attendance had been for most meetings prior to the virus.

That’s why we encourage local governments to continue to livestream their meetings, even though the public is once again allowed to attend in person. Greater access to the public is simply good for democracy, and the expense is minor compared to the benefit of the community being able to easily watch government in action. Cloquet, for example, has had its council meetings streamed live for a few years now. Those same Cloquet meetings are also broadcast on CAT-7 (operated by the Pine Knot News), a boon to many who have cable but not internet access.

We hope other government units will continue to make their meetings open to the public electronically as well as in person. It’s just good for our community.

We welcome your input to the Pine Knot News community newspaper. Send your thoughts, letters, or news to [email protected].

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