Most Belmont boards have no issues with putting meetings on television

BELMONT — The majority the chairmen of the town's various boards and committees said yesterday they would like to see their meetings broadcast on public access television.

The one initial holdout was Planning Board and Zoning Board of Adjustments Chair Peter Harris whose voiced reluctance was not one of transparency but of understanding.

He told selectmen that so much of the planning process takes place at the department level and because a single plan can take upwards of a year to be processed he fears some viewers may not understand and will jump to conclusions.

"I also don't want (the boards) to seem like a rubber stamp," Harris said.

The Board of Selectmen have been wrestling with videotaping and broadcasting its own meetings via Lakes Region Public Access (LRPA) televiiosn since 2010, when the town voted to spend $12,500 to purchase video equipment for the Corner Meeting House.

While the equipment is there, coverage of the selectman's meetings has been spotty because there is no money in the budget to hire anyone to operate the video system. For the past few months a Belmont High School student with an interest in media and visual arts has been volunteering but Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin said last night he is not always available.

Videotaping the meetings became a hot topic during budget preparations late last year when selectmen questioned paying LRPA an annual fee to air the meetings that weren't being taped. Members of the community pushed back, saying they would not only like to see the selectman's meeting taped and broadcast but would like all of the meetings held in the meeting house to be broadcast.

Selectmen agreed and met last night with an eye toward creating a part-time or stipend position so that all of the town's meeting could be aired. Selectman's Chair Ruth Mooney explained that without the support of the other committee's it wouldn't make financial sense to pay for someone to tape meetings.

She also agreed with Harris that it is likely someone who sees a meeting on television isn't going to understand the background but said she hopes that those viewers will use their lack of understanding, anger or support for a decision or a discussion to become more involved in the town.

After hearing from other department heads, Harris said that if there was some preliminary tapes made to explain each committee's role and how its members came to their conclusions, he would support the two committees he chairs being taped.

Harris chairs two of the four committees whose members are elected that meet in the Corner Meeting House. Ron Mitchell chairs the Budget Committee and he said he supports and encourages having his meetings taped.

Linda Frawley of the Heritage Commission and Ken Knowlton of the Conservation Commission support having their respective committee meetings being taped but said since they are appointed by selectmen they will do whatever the selectmen want.