OAKLAND — In response to public demand for improved meeting access, the Oakland Town Council has asked the local school district for help in posting video of an upcoming meeting on the Web for the first time.

If the town adopts the practice regularly, it will join a growing trend of communities posting their public meetings on the Web.

The Web option is less expensive than a television broadcast of Oakland meetings, but Town Manager Peter Nielsen said the council isn’t sure that the audio quality will be sufficient for the town to choose that option permanently.

The council began exploring options for broadcasting meetings in July, when petitioners presented the town with 362 signatures in support of the idea.

Nielsen said that after consulting with cable provider Time Warner Cable, he learned the equipment costs associated with a television broadcast would be more than $10,000.

By contrast, the cost of a camera for a Web-based broadcast would be a few hundred dollars, he said.

Eric Conrad, spokesman for the Maine Municipal Association, said the move toward this level of transparency is growing among the state’s 492 municipalities.

He estimated that the number of communities that webcast their meetings is small — measured in the dozens — but growing.

“We support it for sure,” Conrad said. “This is more proof that municipal government is transparent and is becoming more so.”

Communities that provide webcasts of their meetings are also better able to respond to information requests from interested residents, Conrad said.

“The municipal employee isn’t in the position of having to try to translate what happened,” he said. “Nobody has to explain it in his or her own words. The person can literally go there, watch it and hear it verbatim.”

During the November elections, Oakland citizens were surveyed about their public meeting access preferences. Nielsen said the results have not yet been tabulated.

“The question is whether the quality of the coverage will be adequate,” Nielsen said. “It’s no good filming a meeting if no one can hear what is said.”

Nielsen said the one-time webcast, which has not been scheduled, will give the town an idea of whether the practice could work.

Nielsen said he has sent a letter to Gary Smith, superintendent of the Oakland-based Regional School Unit 18 district, asking the district to help by providing expertise and the loan of the school’s camera.

Video will be put on the Web using YouTube, a popular site that allows users to post videos for free. The video also would be accessible through the town’s website.

One advantage of a webcast, Nielsen said, is that viewers wouldn’t be limited to a scheduled television broadcast, because the meeting videos would be available anytime online.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287
mhhetling@centralmaine.com