A new level of transparency?
It goes without saying that technology is a beautiful thing. Gone are the days of check writing, long distance phone bills and maps. Information is at our fingertips 24 hours a day.
But there's a valid argument against fixing what's not broken. And that's what we believe the Board of Selectmen is doing by ridding itself of the traditional meeting minutes.
Previously, the Board hired a firm to take full minutes of each meeting -- every word jotted down and transcribed for public consumption. But at a recent meeting, the Board approved a three-month trial period for a new format that will include shorter actions minutes. The format, which meets legal requirements, will only include motions and final decisions, not the discussions surrounding each issue. Whether that discussion includes only the Board or the members of the public, it will be lost in the new minutes.
However, since all of the meetings are recorded on Public Access Channel 79, they are readily available to the public in full. But, with the wonders of technology come technical difficulties. And while the Board is correct when saying the minutes are no longer necessary when the DVDs are accessible, what happens if there's a glitch with the recording? The discussion is lost. The entire democratic process leading up to a vote -- poof, gone.
Not to mention the fact that the embedded video on the Town's website takes an extremely long time to load. It stops, reloads, stops again, and not many people have the time (or the patience) to sit through that. We're sure many residents would rather flip through the minutes online until they found what they were looking for.
While the Board mentioned a cost reduction with the new format, the town only stands to gain between $1,500 and $2,000 in savings.
First Selectman David Campbell has said the Town plans to integrate a new system that would speed up the process for watching meetings online. If and when that happens, we feel that broadcasting meetings online will be beneficial and more convenient than flipping through the minutes.
However, the DVDs should be made available as soon as possible. Jim Cameron, program director of Channel 79, said the station has the DVDs ready the following day. But the Town lags when uploading videos and minutes. The BOS has met twice since the new year; both videos were uploaded Thursday, Jan. 20. That seems like an awful lot of time to make public information available.