New tools empower community

Aug 13, 2020

The Aug. 5 joint school board meeting with more than 100 participants was the largest public Zoom meeting held in Camden, Rockport, Hope, Appleton and Lincolnville, since our local towns and school boards decided video conferencing was the best way to conduct public business during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The towns of Camden and Rockport were early adopters of broadcasting Select Board and other meetings to the public. This began with the broadcasting on local cable television of video recorded at live meetings held in conference rooms with members of the public in attendance.

Livestreaming technology to broadcast meetings using the internet is a more recent development. This brought the added benefit of being able to watch the meetings at a later time. Towns and boards can establish their own YouTube channels, which make all of the recorded meetings easy to find.

The town of Lincolnville began livestreaming their meetings inexpensively, using YouTube in 2018.

Up until the pandemic struck, Camden-Rockport School Board meetings could be viewed on the district's YouTube channel, while CSD Board meetings were still held in the traditional, in-person mode. The towns of Hope and Appleton were holding their meetings in person, recorded only by a secretary, as has been done for more than a century.

Well before the pandemic, light attendance at public meetings was becoming noticeable. Many meetings were attended by few members of the public, other than committee heads present for specific agenda items;business owners obtaining their annual licenses to operate restaurants, bars and beds and breakfasts; and people wishing to use town property for special events.

In recent years, it took a controversy, or a persistent, unresolved problem, to fill a room.

In Camden, the Washington Street conference room was packed when a town manager who resigned wasn't getting required approvals to use general funds to cover costs of the Snow Bowl redevelopment; when an unresolved leak under the Seabright Dam was draining the river during a drought year; and when supporters and detractors of Cuzzy's showed up to for the annual hearing of the restaurant's liquor and food license renewals.

The large attendance at the joint school board's Zoom meeting Aug. 5 was something different.

It was not a controversy as much as a group of stakeholders in the reopening of our local schools, a major focus in the surrounding communities and throughout the nation.

This group of parents, teachers and administrators deeply care about their children; their students; their staff; and the impacts schools have on students and on the community.

The adoption of a new technology that brings people together and allows them to arrive at decisions and accomplish important things in these unprecedented times, is not something to be taken for granted, or discarded later on when we can resume the practice of not going to meetings.

No doubt, there are more uses for video conferencing technology in the public sector and to possibly increase the presence of stakeholders in discussing and deciding on large and important matters we will face in the future.

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