January 17, 2013

Oakland Town Council posts first meeting video on web

Council to decide on camera purchase, posting future meeting videos

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

OAKLAND -- The town's first attempt at posting a council meeting on the Internet seems to be successful, Town Manager Peter Nielsen said.

More than 60 people watched at least part of the meeting.

The council will decide next whether it wants to spend the money to buy a camera and post all future meetings on the Web for public review.

If the town moves forward with the effort, it will be part of a small but growing minority, according to Maine Municipal Association spokesman Eric Conrad, who estimated that fewer than 100 of Maine's 492 municipalities make their meetings available online.

The council has been exploring ways to make video of its meetings available to the public since July, when 362 citizens filed a petition asking that the town broadcast its meetings to improve transparency.

During the council's Dec. 26 meeting, Messalonskee High School student Bradley Bickford used a camera on loan from the school to record the proceedings.

In order to judge the audio and video quality, the meeting was posted on YouTube, a video-hosting website. The audio quality was questionable, Nielsen said, but could be improved by repositioning the microphone and boosting the volume.

To avoid having a single long video, the meeting is broken up into three different sections. The first section, accessible through a link on the town website, has been viewed 63 times, according to statistics posted on the site.

The numbers of people who viewed parts two and three are 19 and 15, respectively, suggesting that as many as 15 people watched the meeting in its entirety.

Nielsen said an audience of any size is better than no audience at all.

"It's an improvement over nothing," he said.

Nielsen said he has received emails from three residents who were pleased to see the council making the effort. Two of them mentioned the poor audio quality, he said.

The town can buy a camera like the one used in the experiment for several hundred dollars, according to Nielsen. That's significantly less expensive than broadcasting meetings through Time Warner Cable, which Nielsen said would cost more than $10,000 in startup equipment alone.

Councilman Byron Wrigley said he doesn't feel strongly about recording meetings on video one way or another.

"It would be fine with me whichever way the council feels they want to go," he said.

The issue is on the agenda of the council's Jan. 23 meeting.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling -- 861-9287
mhhetling@centralmaine.com

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