Darien using technology to increase government transparency
After the Board of Selectmen decided to shorten the minutes format for town meetings, some officials and residents have expressed concerns regarding possible consequences.
Jim Cameron, director of TV79, said there are about 700 addresses on the programming list. He said that meeting minutes traditionally serve more of an archive purpose rather than being a completely accurate accounting of the meeting.
"We have covered every Board of Selectmen meeting, accurately and more dispassionately than any minutes can," Cameron said of TV79's coverage. "Board of Selectmen members often request copies of the meeting videos because they said they trusted the DVDs more than the minutes."
Despite hearing some accusations that TV79's coverage is incomplete, Cameron said there are very few technical issues.
"There was one meeting where the picture was covered by the logo but there was still audio, so you could hear everything that was going on," Cameron said. "We work very hard to make sure meetings are covered."
Cameron said copies will be made available in the First Selectman's office and backup copies would be made in case anything happened to the original.
"Those archival DVDs would be available to any citizen," Cameron said.
Video recordings of the meetings are usually available by the following day but Cameron said the ability to get them online is at the discretion of the Board of Education Information Technology team.
"We're at the mercy of the IT department because they handle all of the material for the town's website," Cameron said.
Currently, no minutes or videos have been posted from the Board of Education meetings and the minutes and videos for Board of Selectmen's meetings held the first and third week of January were posted Thursday morning.
First Selectman David Campbell said he hasn't received any complaints from residents about adopting the new minute format.
"What we were doing was so off base," Campbell said. "None of the other towns use such an archaic format for their minutes."
New Canaan, Westport and Greenwich use a condensed minute format for their meetings, Campbell said. He pointed out that the other towns use the minutes for voting and to get a sense of why the vote went the way it did.
In a few letters to the editor, questions were raised about the transparency of the Board of Selectmen with the condensed minutes.
"We are being as transparent as we have ever been, if not more," Campbell said. "We're giving the public the opportunity to see what is going on through TV79."
The idea of using a condensed format for the minutes was on Campbell's mind for awhile after he noticed the quality of the minutes was being questioned more at the meetings.
"Towns either do a transcript or they do minutes," Campbell said. "For awhile, we were trying to do both and it just doesn't work."
To further increase the ability for residents to be involved with the decisions that the Board of Selectmen are making, TV79 will soon be able to broadcast meetings live over the internet, Campbell said.
"We have a new server that is being installed that will allow for live feeds over the web," Campbell said. "We have the equipment and now it's just a matter of getting everything ready to go."
Campbell estimated the internet feed would be up and running within the next few weeks.
If there are any concerns that the shorter minutes will lack substance, Campbell said they would still be as detailed, if not more so, than past minutes.
"We waited until we had the technology in place so that people can reference the meetings," Campbell said. "TV79 helps get people involved."
Campbell said he doubts many people actually read the minutes since TV79 offers a 100 percent accurate accounting of the meeting.
Adopting the new minute format could create a small amount of savings between $1,500 and $2,000 but Campbell said that was not the reason he wanted to change the format.
"The savings was not the reason to make the changes," Campbell said. "The reason was to make sure the minutes are accurate."