New JoCo chair Mike Kelly says board will stop streaming public comments

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Starting this week, the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners plans to no longer livestream public comments at the start of its meetings.

In an email, new county chair Mike Kelly informed fellow commissioners of that and other rules changes that would be in place in time for Kelly’s first meeting on the board on Thursday, Jan. 12.

Kelly justified the changes by arguing that the county could lose access to its YouTube channel if misinformation aired by residents during public comment sessions violates the video-sharing platform’s community standards.

Audio and livestream will be ‘shut off’ during public comments

  • In his email sent Friday, Kelly informed other commissioners of the rules changes that, he said, were intended to help the commission conduct meetings “in a more timely manner and with a respectful tone.”
  • He said county staff would shut off audio and put up a graphic on the livestream during public comments and resume the audio and video feeds once the meeting continued.
  • The move does not eliminate the public comment portion of the meeting but stops it from being broadcast online.

Other changes impact how residents can give comments

  • In addition, Kelly said citizens will no longer have the option of making public comments via Zoom — a change accommodated during the COVID-19 pandemic — but must make them either in person or in writing.
  • Also, members of the public must now register online in advance or in person the day of the meeting at least 10 minutes before a meeting begins in order to be able to give comments, Kelly said.

Kelly cites YouTube’s guidelines for the changes

  • In his email, Kelly said the county has received a warning in the past about potentially violating YouTube’s community guidelines, following unsubstantiated comments from residents about fraud in the 2020 election.
  • In its community guidelines, YouTube warns that content “advancing false claims that widespread fraud, errors, or glitches occurred in certain past elections,” could lead to users’ channels being terminated after multiple violations.
  • Across the country, local governmental bodies’ YouTube channels were flagged for potentially spreading misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the company said as early as 2021 that it would make exceptions for comments made as part of town hall or school board meetings.
  • In brief remarks after his swearing-in Monday, Kelly appeared to reemphasize his position, saying his victory in November showed that Johnson County was ready to “rebut extremism and … conspiracy theories and misinformation.”
Crowds gathered outside the Johnson County Commission chambers for public comments in 2020.
During the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, crowds would often form outside the commission’s chambers, waiting to make public comments about pandemic policies up for discussion. File photo.

At least one commissioner opposes the changes

  • 3rd District Commissioner Charlotte O’Hara, who lost to Kelly in last year’s race for county chair, opposed what she called a “drastic change” in meeting procedures.
  • Responding to Kelly’s email, O’Hara wrote, “This example of your authoritarian roughshod rule of kingship is disgusting.”
  • On Monday, O’Hara told the Post that she hopes to see the rules changes brought to a vote at Thursday’s board meeting so other commissioners have a chance to publicly weigh in on them.
  • “This is about transparency,” she said. “This is about public input into the process, and I am gravely concerned about it.”

SMSD board has also stopped livestreaming comments

  • In the summer of 2021, the Shawnee Mission school board stopped streaming public comments before its meetings, also citing potential violations of YouTube’s guidelines.
  • Kelly alluded to “other organizations” who have taken similar steps to “maintain a professional atmosphere” at their meetings in his email to commissioners.
  • “On the campaign trail, people told me that they wanted our county commission focused on the issues that really make a difference within our lives in the future of the people in Johnson County,” Kelly told the Post. “Because there’s a lot to do. So I wanted to make some adjustments to how our meetings will work, utilizing best practices that are used by other boards and commissions and hope that the changes make it easier to have substantive interactions between our residents and their elected officials.”

About the author

Lucie Krisman
Lucie Krisman

Hi! I’m Lucie Krisman, and I cover local business for the Johnson County Post.

I’m a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, but have been living in Kansas since I moved here to attend KU, where I earned my degree in journalism. Prior to joining the Post, I did work for The Pitch, the Eudora Times, the North Dakota Newspaper Association and KTUL in Tulsa.