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Union to return to in person; Shepard chairs final meeting

By Christine Simmonds | Jun 02, 2021
Photo by: Christine Simmonds Union Board of Selectmen Chair John Shepard during his final meeting as a member of the board June 1.

Union — The Union Board of Selectmen will return to in-person meetings, but the future of closed captions for those meetings is undetermined.

The board held their final Zoom meeting June 1, and voted to begin meeting in person again starting at the next meeting June 15.

All Union board of selectmen meetings, and most committee meetings, have been conducted over Zoom since the COVID-19 pandemic began more than a year ago.

During this time, some residents asked about closed captions.

Town Manager Jay Feyler was able to turn on the closed captions in the last month, which are provided for free from Zoom. However, since the next meeting will be in person, the board discussed the possibility of spending municipal funds on providing this service.

Feyler said Zoom may also cease offering this option for free in the future as well.

Resident Ann Donaldson spoke on the matter during public comment. Donaldson told the board she is totally deaf in one ear, and very much relies on closed captioning.

She asked the board to vote in favor of providing closed captions.

While the board will return to in person meetings, the town’s committees will have the option to continue to meet over Zoom.

Board Chair John Shepard said was he worried that fewer people would participate in committee meetings if they returned to only in-person.

Board member Martha Johnston-Nash agreed, and commented that she thought committee members also liked meeting on Zoom.

Board member Adam Fuller expressed concern about problems with internet connections during online committee meetings. However, Fuller said if holding committee meetings over Zoom helped more residents participate then he supported allowing them to choose that.

Board member Bill Lombardi said he liked attending committee meetings through Zoom as well. He could attend such a meeting with his video off and eat his dinner without being intrusive, Lombardi said.

With future board meetings being held in person, the board discussed closed captioning options for those meetings.

All board and committee meetings are currently being streamed for free on Town Hall Streams. This service does not provide closed captions, though.

Feyler said the cost of providing closed captions for these meetings could potentially cost $600 per month, and there was no funding in the budget for this cost.

Fuller said he supported the use of closed captions as a way to allow more participation for Zoom meetings. However, the board would be returning to in-person meetings. Instead, Fuller suggested the idea of free programs that could be used to provide transcription services.

Feyler said perhaps the town could put together a list of such apps and help residents find and use them.

Shepard said he felt this was a reasonable alternative.

The board tabled this discussion and will revisit it at a future meeting after they have returned to meeting in person.

This was Shepard’s final board meeting as a member of the board. Shepard did not run for reelection in the upcoming June 8 election.

Feyler said the town would honor Shepard and his work for the town at the Town Meeting June 12.

In other business, the board confirmed ballot clerks for the upcoming election.

Republicans Tera Corson, Cynthia Burns, Charlotte Doughty, Barbara Fang and Sherry Abaldo were confirmed.

Democrats Dorothy Black, Dianne Groce, Pamela Jensen, Nancy Johnson and Debra Hilt were also confirmed.

Resident John Gibbons updated the board on the broadband committee.

Currently the committee is still pursuing both options of joining the Midcoast Internet Coalition and entering into a private deal with internet service provider LCI.

The next Union Board of Selectmen meeting will be in person at the William Pullen Room June 15 at 6:30 p.m.

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