Town Puts Meeting Audio On Website

BERLIN – More transparency and citizen access has become the watchword for Berlin’s town government, which will soon offer audio recordings of council and other meetings after the fact, and which has recently begun uploading town council meeting packets to the Berlin website.

“This is just another effort to get the people involved in town government,” said Berlin administrator Tony Carson.

The agenda packets offer the agenda, minutes from the previous meeting, text of ordinances or regulations to be discussed, and the town administrator’s report. All these materials are available at the meeting as well.

The first recording could be posted for download within a month, according to staffer Mary Bohlen, who handles the website for the town.

Berlin is in the midst of moving the website to new servers, and Bohlen could not give a more definite date. The website needs to be squared away first, she said. Once that is complete, it should be a snap to post audio to the site.

“It’s not difficult to do once everything is on the appropriate computer,” Bohlen said.

Staff tested the new audio recording system at the Berlin Mayor and Council meeting on Monday.

“We’re going to be working on where to place it,” said Carson.

The spot with the best sound quality, probably on the table in front of the Berlin Mayor and Council dais, will pick up sound throughout the large room.

Carson said the recorder, “is very small, very efficient, and very inexpensive. The technology has really come a long way in the last few years.”

Once staff is comfortable with the process, recordings of Berlin’s meetings, from town council to the Planning and Zoning Commission, would be posted on the Berlin website for downloading the day after the meeting.

“You’d be able to go to our site and go right to the meeting and click on the meeting itself,” Carson said.         

The town administrator made the suggestion to record the meetings and offer the audio online when he started in the post in late 2008, a practice followed in his last two positions.

Residents of Fenwick, Del., appreciated the recordings because many of them are only part-time residents, and the recordings allow them to keep up with town doings, Carson said of his last job. Others simply cannot attend all meetings or are interested only in certain topics or subcommittees.                        

Archived recordings could be kept available on the Berlin website for several months, said Carson.

While Ocean City offers video of the resort town council meetings online and on a local public access channel, it is the only local jurisdiction to do so.

Pocomoke City posts agendas on its website and keeps an agenda archive, and Snow Hill makes agendas available by request. Worcester County posts County Commissioner meeting agendas and packets on the county website, although the packet is not usually available until late afternoon the day before the meeting. The county does not tape its meetings.

Berlin is only the second local jurisdiction to offer meeting recordings. 

Ocean Pines, which is the largest year-round community in Worcester County although not a municipality, offers video footage of Ocean Pines Association Board of Directors meetings online.

Carson said that video is a possibility in the future, but that currently, the town would take it slow and concentrate on getting the audio recordings up and running.

“Click and it’ll be right there for you,” Carson said.