Can’t make it to that city or town council meeting? How about that issue being heard by the planning board?

Chances are you can catch it anyway, live or later, in front of the television in your living room or on your computer.

Not every community in central and western York County is embracing technology, but many have. While municipal meetings have been broadcast on cable television in many towns and cities for years, several are also streaming meetings on the Internet, either live or within the next day or two, which are then available anytime through the municipality’s website. Acton, Biddeford, Saco, Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, Wells, Sanford and Waterboro are among the communities that do.

Waterboro, with a 2010 population of about 7,700, is one of the larger of York County’s “small” communities west of the turnpike. Technology Manager David Lowe estimates he began uploading meeting DVDs in late 2010.

“The selectmen had been discussing ways to reach more people and to open the lines of communication,” said Lowe.

He said utilizing the Internet had come up earlier, when a selectwoman vacationing in Florida wanted to be involved in a meeting. She couldn’t vote, but the technology allowed her to “be there,”’ Lowe said. Then, he began streaming meetings, which are available on the town’s website, www.waterboro-me.net. Lowe uses Vimeo to upload the DVDs, which he said costs the town about $20 a year.

In Biddeford, Public Access Manager Steve Pulos said he began streaming meetings to the Internet five or six years ago, and said he has heard complaints in the past during rare glitches when the video fails to upload ”“ an indication that they have a faithful audience.

Pulos said he hopes one day to be able to offer podcasts, which is the audio recording available online.

These days, Pulos said, people just don’t have time to attend meetings and don’t always have time to watch them ”“ but they might have time to listen.

“If you’re listening on an iPod, at least you know what’s going on” in your community, he said.

Sigmund Schutz, an attorney who represents the Maine Press Association, said communities that provide online access as well as cable television are going “above and beyond” what’s called for in the law.

“It’s great,” he said.

Maine’s Freedom of Access Act says meetings, with some exceptions, must be open to the public, and a record kept of public proceedings must be open to public inspection within a reasonable period. The record must contain date, time and place of the meeting, names of those present or absent, and motions and votes taken. The law says an audio, video or other electronic recording satisfies the requirements of the law ”“ but it does not say that they’re required. The law says the records must be available for public inspection and copying, and that the municipality may charge a fee, which Schutz said is limited to the cost of copying and the staff time involved.

In Saco, City Clerk Michele Hughes said there have been requests for DVD copies in the past, which the city provided for free, but since the meetings are now aired over Thornton Academy Television, she hasn’t had anyone make the request.

Waterboro and Sanford charge $5 for a meeting DVD. Sherry Lord, administrative assistant in Sanford, said technical difficulties have interrupted the availability of online viewing at the moment, but she expects it to resume soon.

In Kennebunk, Director of Information Services Rich Boucher said the town charges about $10 for a meeting DVD.

“But we rarely get calls for them now,” said Boucher, because of Internet availability.

In Old Orchard Beach, meetings are shown on cable television but are not streamed online. The cost of a DVD is $40, but Town Clerk Kim McLaughlin said per the new charter, residents can borrow DVD copies of meetings. She said she plans to approach the town council Oct. 2 with a plan to reduce the $40 fee, which she said dates from the days of VHS tapes. McLaughlin said at some point she’d like to have meetings streamed online.

York County Commissioners meetings aren’t videotaped, but that could change. County Manager Greg Zinser said the county now has a YouTube channel and eventually hopes to record and then post meetings there.

Some municipalities don’t videotape meetings ”“ Alfred, Lyman and Shapleigh are three of them; nor does RSU 57, the sprawling school district that serves Alfred, Limerick, Lyman, Shapleigh, Newfield and Waterboro. Shapleigh and Lyman record audiotapes; Alfred and RSU 57 offer only written minutes.

Karla Bergeron, who chairs the RSU 57 board of directors, said the school board did tape the meetings until funding was cut from the budget this school year. Bergeron, also the selectmen’s assistant in Shapleigh, said the town’s audiotapes are available to the public ”“ she said folks can review them at the town hall or request a copy.

“But no one has,” she said.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, Ext. 327 or [email protected]



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