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Conway selectmen’s meetings to be filmed

CONWAY — For the first time on Monday, Board of Selectmen meetings will be recorded on camera.

Frontier Community Access Television plans to set up two small cameras in the selectmen’s office to record meetings and broadcast them on the FCAT station, Channel 23, and stream them on FCAT’s website.

“Our intention is to begin filming every selectmen meeting. Then later add the Finance Committee, Zoning Board of Appeals and the Planning Board,” FCAT Manager Doug Finn said. “Although we are limited on staff, we will do our best to provide coverage of those meetings.”

The meetings will be aired on Channel 23 on Tuesday and Friday nights and can be viewed on FCAT.TV, the video-on-demand website.

Monday’s meeting will be the test for FCAT’s new equipment — a high-end digital switcher. This will digitally combine the sounds of the microphone and the images of the camera into a single digital signal recorded on the computer. The advantage is it enables a laptop computer to create titles and credits.

The digital switcher is the solution to filming within a small cramped selectmen’s office. Last year, the town purchased the two cameras, a microphone and a laptop computer than can fit easily in the meeting room, for $9,700.

“We’re just now getting the equipment in order,” Finn said. “The purchase of the new switcher is the final cap on the project. It makes it easier for us to record without filling the room with other gear.”

Finn will film the meeting himself instead of a student intern.

“We’re trying out new equipment. I want to make sure it works correctly,” Finn said.

With Monday’s recording, Conway joins its fellow FCAT members: Deerfield, Whately and Sunderland. The four southern Franklin County towns contributed a total of $113,986 in FY 2013 to the South Deerfield-based community access station.

FCAT began six years ago as part of a deal between the towns and the cable company, Comcast. According to the initial franchise agreement, Comcast has the right to use the streets and poles of the four towns for its cable wires. In exchange, Comcast returns a percentage of its profit back to the towns, which they can only use to fund a public access station. Each town contributes an amount to FCAT based on its number of cable subscribers. Conway has 335 subscribers and paid $7,436 into FCAT this year.

The blinking red recording button on the video cameras will be turned on in the town office one week after questions were raised regarding the selectmen’s openness.

The Board of Selectmen recently came forward with a proposal to build a municipal multi-use complex for all town functions, including public safety and highway, on the riverfront former Rose property off Shelburne Falls Road. The problem is that the selectmen excluded other town boards and committees — specifically the Planning Board — from the initial planning stages, and their ideas are not the same as those of other town boards. The selectmen claimed to be in the process of information gathering before presenting a proposal. According to the state’s general laws, planning boards “make careful studies and when necessary prepare plans of the resources, possibilities and needs of the city or town, and, upon the completion of any such study, shall submit to the city council or selectmen a report thereon, with its recommendations.”

The Conway Broadband Committee has planned for months to get the town’s meetings on screen.

Committee Chairman Bob Armstrong said the equipment gave the town “the capability to record and put video up on Comcast.”

However, when FCAT was set to come to the small hilltown and record the selectmen meetings, there was some confusion and miscommunication. According to Armstrong, the selectmen called FCAT and told the government access station not to come.

“The selectmen notified (FCAT) that they didn’t want them to come and record. The selectmen didn’t say why,” Armstrong said.

Two weeks ago, FCAT held its board of directors meeting, where the board asked Armstrong why Conway’s recordings were put on hold.

“I said ‘I didn’t know why’,” Armstrong said.

When asked why there was a hold on recorded meetings, Finn said, “the message got crossed.”

“I spoke with (selectmen’s Chairman) John O’Rourke. A few days ago he made sure I was clear that the town was welcome to have us,” Finn said. “I’ve never been told, ‘no you can’t film’.”

Finn attributed the mixed signals to the difficulty of fitting the camera equipment into the small room and the transition between former town aide Tom Spiro and the new Town Administrator Ed MacDonald. MacDonald and the selectboard laid off Spiro on Nov. 19. MacDonald began his newly created position the following Monday.

The new digital switcher made it easier for the town to record using its small cameras, Finn said.

Another issue was the shortage of FCAT staff available to film Conway meetings. Out of the FCAT office on Elm Street in South Deerfield, there are two employees, including Finn. The second person is Kevin Murphy, the outreach coordinator, who sets up internships for Frontier Regional School students. There are seven to eight interns who provide coverage in Deerfield and Whately. In addition to shooting meetings, the interns balance their availability with school, work and extracurricular activities. Sunderland has its own government access station and films its own meetings.

“There were a lot of different reasons why we were not able to get going,” Finn said.

Likewise, O’Rourke said the delay was due to a “mixup of what information was given to FCAT and what we told them before. That’s why meetings were not filmed until now.”

O’Rourke said recording meetings is “something we’ve always planned.”

According to O’Rourke, the selectmen were prepared for the camera lights, but the new Town Administrator Ed MacDonald told FCAT not to come.

MacDonald is “new in the position. He’s trying to get things organized so he held it off,” O’Rourke said.

Even with the cameras watching, O’Rourke said there will be no change in how the board conducts its meetings.

“I think everything will go along as we held meetings in the past,” O’Rourke said. “It will give residents an opportunity to see meetings on TV on the local FCAT channel. They are open meetings.”

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