LINCOLN – For now, Lincoln will not mandate that all town meetings be recorded and made available online, Town Councilors decided this week.
The council discussed a proposed ordinance on Monday calling for audiovisual recordings of all official town meetings, as well as access to recordings via the town website.
Councilor Pamela Azar, pictured, who sponsored the ordinance, said the changes would benefit residents who are unable to attend in-person meetings for health or other reasons.
Some of her co-councilors expressed concerns with the proposed mandate.
Councilor TJ Russo asked whether members of the public could legally participate in a meeting remotely.
Town meetings have to be held in person, said Solicitor Tony DeSisto, adding that “the only way someone doesn’t have to appear in-person to weigh in on a topic is if they have a recognized medical condition that prevents them from attending.”
DeSisto said allowing for live virtual public participation could create issues, and used Tiverton as an example. A well-attended public meeting there was publicized as having an online component, but some residents were unable to access the livestream. As a result, DeSisto said the entire meeting had to be redone.
DeSisto recommended that Lincoln continue as it has been, live-streaming Town Council meetings and filming some other meetings wherever possible.
Lincoln Town Clerk Lillian Silva said she’s been working with IT contractor Denise Potvin to implement more streaming services, but that currently the town council chambers at Town Hall is the only place equipped to do so.
She said they’re looking at adding another camera in the committee room located off council chambers, so meetings held there can be streamed as well. Silva told the council that the process for live-streaming is a fairly simple one, once the equipment is in place.
Azar suggested exploring different options, such as YouTube, but DeSisto warned that communities such as Warren have faced challenges with that platform.
“It wasn’t successful from a technological standpoint. They did not have a good experience,” he said. “It kind of wreaked havoc … it was not successful in achieving public participation.”
In Lincoln, Silva said public comments had to be disabled on Zoom videos due to negative engagement between online participants.
Russo said he supports broadcasting certain meetings for the public to see, as the council has been doing all along, but feared the technology costs associated with streaming every public meeting. There’s also no way to prove that people are who they say they are online, he said.
On the flip side, he said there’s a benefit to recording meetings, especially Zoning and Planning meetings, which serve as a record in case of an appeal.
Town Planner Al Ranaldi agreed, saying, “We recently had a denial where I was able to go back into the video and get verbatim testimony for the written decision. It was very, very helpful.”
The Planning Department is working on setting up an online platform where entire planning applications will be available for people to read through.
Phil Gould, attending his first council work session as town administrator, said he sees the value in filming meetings for the sake of transparency and public engagement.
Ultimately, Russo said he supports the expansion of streaming or filming services in town, but doesn’t believe it needs to be mandated by the council.
“I’m not comfortable at this point recommending this to the council without amendments specifying that only certain committees have the capability to do this right now,” he said.
The matter was tabled in committee, so that councilors could gather more feedback from constituents and explore their options.
Despite comments discussing issues with live-streaming, Azar's resolution only mentions recordings.
The ordinance committee also discussed a new municipal affordable housing fund ordinance on Monday.
The ordinance establishes a system by which the town would disperse grants for affordable housing projects, funded by developers who have opted to pay a fee in lieu of providing affordable units.
Ranaldi said the ordinance is transparent and simple, “providing us with the format we need to implement the program.”
The council would decide on a case-by-case basis whether or not to disperse the funds to aid certain projects. Ranaldi said he doesn’t anticipate the council will hear many of that sort of application.
Due to a clerical error, some of the most recent changes made to the ordinance were not on the council agenda, so the matter was continued to next month’s council meeting.
The ordinance committee continued a discussion on the town’s political sign ordinance for a similar reason. DeSisto said his office made a typographical error, deleting the wrong part of the ordinance.
The sign ordinance will also be heard next month.