Hampden council votes to record, broadcast RSU 22 board meetings

Posted March 31, 2014, at 9:07 p.m.

HAMPDEN, Maine — Residents of Hampden and other RSU 22 member towns soon will be able to watch video recordings of school board meetings.

The 4-3 decision to videotape school board meetings was made during a March 17 meeting of the Hampden Town Council. In favor of the measure were Mayor Carol Duprey and council members Ivan McPike, David Ryder and Greg Sirois, while members Thomas Brann, Jean Lawlis and William Shakespeare voted against it.

Town Manager Susan Lessard said Monday that a date for videotaping school board meetings has yet to be set but that the program is “imminent.”

Lessard said that while school board meetings won’t be streamed live over the Internet like council meetings are, video recordings will be broadcast over the town’s government access cable television station and a link to access them over the Internet will be posted on the town’s website.

Lessard said that the town also will make DVD copies of school board meetings available to those who want them, as it does with council meetings.

The town will cover the projected $1,200 cost of having a videographer tape the school board’s meetings, with the money for doing so coming from its communication budget, which is funded partly through local tax dollars and the proceeds of the town’s franchise agreement with Time Warner Cable, which generates about $30,000 a year in revenue.

Town councilors discussed the merits of videotaping school board meetings as part of an overall goal to make local government more transparent to the public during a February goal-setting session. A majority agreed to move forward on the concept.

During the March 17 meeting, Sirois spoke in favor of the concept.

“I think it’s important, where the school board is responsible for 57 percent of our budget and it’s important that residents of this town understand the impact that the school board has,” he said.

“At the end of the day, we have to pay that 57 percent 58 percent. The only thing [Hampden taxpayers] see is us speaking about our impact on the budget, which is 38 percent. Yet the board that’s responsible for the largest part of our budget is not under review in the sense of being recorded. so I think [taxpayers] should see [both municipal and school] meetings so they can fully understand when it comes to our taxes,” he said.

While Lawlis, a schoolteacher, said she was not opposed to making video recordings of school board meetings, she noted that many meeting were spent engaged in policy work that might not be of much interest to the general public.

She suggested that the town instead concentrate on taping meetings that pertained to the RSU’s budget. In the end, however, the council majority voted to record video at all meetings.

Shakespeare opposed the proposal.

“Who’s going to pay for this?” he said. “I have an issue with the town spending money on this, personally, because all I hear is taxpayers coming up here and saying, ‘We don’t want to spend money on this, we don’t want to spend money on that, we don’t want our mill rate to go up.’”

When asked by Lessard for his comment, Superintendent Rick Lyons said in a March 7 memo that the school board had discussed the taping. While not opposed to having them videotaped, board members noted that:

— RSU 22 serves four towns with varying infrastructure for ensuring access for all citizens.

— Board meetings are held in different communities, so the various host schools would not have equal access to cable television to broadcast the meetings.

— Board meetings and subcommittee meetings are open to the public and agendas and minutes are posted on the RSU’s website.

Assistant Superintendent Emil Genest later noted that RSU 22 already has several mechanisms in place for keeping the public informed, including meetings, a website and Link 22, its quarterly newspaper.

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