Laura Jones of Vassalboro is shown with video equipment Tuesday at the Morning Sentinel in Waterville. She uses the equipment to stream public meetings in her community and shares the material through social media. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

VASSALBORO — To Laura Jones, information is power. It’s a lesson she learned during her roughly 20 years as an Air Force intelligence officer, and one she was reminded of when she moved back to Maine.

After her service took her throughout Asia and Europe, Jones returned to her hometown of Vassalboro just before the pandemic. After attending her first-ever town meeting, Jones began getting involved with Vassalboro’s town government but became frustrated by how few people were invested in municipal politics.

Only a handful of residents would turn up to vote at Vassalboro’s town meeting, and Jones was lucky if anyone else was in the audience for the biweekly Select Board meetings.

That trend intensified when the pandemic hit, Jones said. When COVID-19 began shutting down large gatherings, municipal meetings were no exception.

As people across the country were forced to stay inside to slow the spread, governments at all levels across the country began livestreaming their meetings and allowing remote participation, both for legislators and constituents.

Vassalboro, however, held out. Though town officials during the pandemic discussed buying streaming equipment of their own, Vassalboro would not stream any public meetings for years, according to Town Manager Aaron Miller.


“It is my understanding that about 20 meetings were recorded via Zoom during the beginning of the pandemic, however they were not streamed,” Miller said in an email.

In late 2022, after years of discussions about streaming meetings, Jones was reminded of what she learned in the Air Force: Information is power. And Vassalboro’s residents needed more information.

“I started learning more, I was like ‘Why isn’t anyone else participating?'” she said. “So one day in a meeting, I said, ‘Is there anything stopping me from bringing a camera and a mic in here?’ (The Select Board members) were quiet and then said ‘Yeah, you can,’ so I said ‘OK, I’ll see you next week!'”

In October 2022, Jones began bringing a camera, tripod and microphone to every municipal meeting she could. She began a Facebook account dubbed Laura Jones Community Matters where she livestreamed Select Board, Planning Board and other municipal meetings before uploading them to YouTube and Facebook.

Sharon Farrington has been a Vassalboro resident for nearly all of her 70 years. She was not invested in town government aside from the annual town meeting, though that changed when Jones began posting about the Vassalboro Sanitary District.

The Sanitary District is a semiprivate company that owns and operates a sewer line for about 200 of Vassalboro’s roughly 4,000 residents. In November 2023, the Sanitary District informed residents of plans to raise sewer rates by 60% followed by 5% increases annually for the following five years.


Jones began posting not only about the rate increase, but about the Sanitary District’s financial statements and monthly meetings. Through her Facebook page, she sought to increase transparency within a little-known entity, and inform residents about how they could get involved.

“There were lots of discussions in town about the Vassalboro Sewer District, and (Jones) was very instrumental in making people aware and getting them involved,” Farrington said.

Farrington was one of several hundred residents who followed Jones’ account as she shed light on the Sanitary District and says she has been engaged with town government ever since. She would not have been able to, Farrington said, if Jones was not recording the meetings.

“A lot of people who couldn’t get to the meeting were able to access it for themselves online,” Farrington said. “Plus, when it’s documented and accessible online, you can start and stop it at any point. It’s not like sitting through a meeting for two hours, which many people can’t do.”

Dozens of residents began showing up for public hearings, Select Board meetings and other events regarding the Sewer District and other town business and even more began tuning in to Jones’ livestreams.

Just a few months later, in January 2023, Vassalboro’s Select Board bought roughly $4,500 worth of livestreaming equipment, including a MacBook Pro, two 75-inch televisions and a $1,300 “Owl” camera, which can record and stream 360-degree video.


Miller, the town manager inaugurated the same month, said the town planned to buy the equipment before Jones began streaming meetings. In the roughly six months since, Miller said he hasn’t seen an increase in civic engagement.

“My efforts to record and stream meetings were well underway prior to Laura asking,” Miller wrote in an email. “I credit the select board for the town’s transition to livestreaming, as this was a discussion first held during my interview for this process.”

However, Kate Dufour, the Maine Municipal Association’s advocacy and communications director, said remote participation has increased both public access and engagement with Maine’s local governments.

“I’m not going to tell you thousands of people start showing up for riveting council meetings, but in general, more people are engaging,” Dufour said Thursday. “(Livestreaming) provides an avenue for residents who may not normally participate in municipal proceedings to do so. You could do it from the comfort of your home. You could listen in. From our perspective, it kind of enhances public engagement.”

While many communities were quick to adopt streaming at the onset of the pandemic, Dufour said many of Maine’s more rural communities like Vassalboro face higher barriers to adopting new technology.

Many areas still don’t have access to high-speed broadband, she said, and the high cost of streaming equipment makes it prohibitive for some communities to buy. Others worry about so-called ‘Zoom bombings‘ or inflammatory language from virtual speakers, as well as the First Amendment questions that arise in restricting such incidents.

Jones’ Facebook page has accumulated over 300 followers since she started attending and streaming meetings. Now that Vassalboro records and livestreams all of its public meetings, Jones is setting her sights on other central Maine towns that do not make their meetings accessible online. Like Jones often says, information is power, and there are thousands of Mainers uninformed about their local government.

“I figure if I can go and share what I’m learning with everybody, then everybody wins,” Jones said. “My measure for success is if I can get more people involved.”

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