A recent Journal Tribune analysis of public access in York County shows that many municipalities and school districts are doing a good job of offering other options to residents who can’t appear in the flesh at committee and board meetings.

The article published on Sept. 22, written by reporter Tammy Wells, showed that Acton, Biddeford, Saco, Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, Wells, Sanford and Waterboro are among the communities that stream municipal meetings online, and many also have local access cable channels where meetings are broadcast.

Sigmund Schutz, an attorney who represents the Maine Press Association, told the Journal Tribune that many communities here ”“ that are providing online access as well as cable television ”“ are going “above and beyond” what’s called for by law. According to state statute, municipal meetings, with some exceptions, must be open to the public, and a record kept of public proceedings. The record must contain date, time and place of the meeting, names of those present or absent, and motions and votes taken. Maine’s Freedom of Access Act says an audio, video or other electronic recording satisfies the requirements of the law, but is not required. The law says 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.

Unfortunately, in some small towns such as Alfred, there are only written minutes, but hopefully as technology becomes more affordable and accessible, these towns will get on board with online streaming or television as well.

Several York County towns have utilized Town Hall Streams ”“ including Eliot, Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, Kittery, Ogunquit, Wells and York ”“ which allows towns to stream public meetings through the site and post related documents like agendas. The cost is about $3,000 a year for the service.

Others do the work in-house, like Waterboro, where Technology Manager David Lowe uploads meeting to the town’s website. He said the cost is a mere $20 a year ”“ not including his time, of course ”“ for Vimeo, the video sharing website he uses to get the video online.

In addition, many of the towns and cities do audio recording and can make copies of video or audio for purchase or lending.

In Biddeford, where meetings are already broadcast on cable TV and online, Public Access Manager Steve Pulos is also hoping to offer meetings via podcast ”“ which is an audio recording available free on the Web.

County government is also hoping to get its meetings, which are not currently videotaped, recorded and posted online for viewing through its YouTube channel.

All of this access means that officials throughout York County take the public’s right to know seriously, and beyond that, they are working to continue to increase access for residents. This level of transparency helps keep those officials honest while keeping residents informed ”“ even if they can’t attend in person.

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Today’s editorial was written by City Editor Robyn Burnham representing the majority opinion of the Journal Tribune Editorial Board. Questions? Comments? Contact Managing Editor Kristen Schulze Muszynski by calling 282-1535, Ext. 322, or via email at [email protected].