I am Joshua Smith and this site is a pet project of mine. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I have a "real job" as founder and CTO of Kaon Interactive. I created this site as a nights-and-weekends project with two objectives:
As a long time volunteer on town boards and committees, I know the importance of inter-board communication, and I think making it easier for people to share information is in everyone's best interest. I love the new Open Meeting Law, but I also understand that it comes as a huge "unfunded mandate" to cities and towns that are struggling keep their doors open at all.
As I was putting this site together, it became clear to me that making it a site that any town in the Commonwealth could use would be pretty easy. So I did that. The site is hosted in "the cloud" which has some amazing benefits:
The feature set of this site will always be a work-in-progress. I'll add features as they are suggested, provided they are really useful, consistent with Open Meeting and Public Records laws, and do not hurt usability or accessibility for the general public. If you have a feature suggestion, send it to me at the email address above.
I am happy to add any town to this site. Currently the site has program logic to handle Massachusetts Open Meeting Law notice requirements (which are more complicated than you might think). If your town is not in MA, then we'll have to work together to ensure the system is meeting the notice requirements of your state or locality. To get started, send me an email, and I'll let you know what I need to add your town.
The system is designed to be administered by the Town Clerk. Adding boards, locations, and users is all self-serve, and designed to be very easy to do. When you roll this out in your town, you may want to have someone who can train your more computer-timid board clerks on how to enter their meetings into the system, and upload minutes and other documents. In Barre, the town librarian volunteered to be this person.
I've created this model towngovernment.org roll-out plan which you might find useful.
The cost of operating this site is low, but increasing. As the number of towns has increased (21 as of this writing), my out-of-pocket for server time has increased as well. The year ending June 2019 had $166 in server costs, an 87% increase over the previous year:
The big increases in the past year are due to both heavier load from users, and heavier load from the robots that crawl the web creating search indexes. There are more that 50,000 meetings recorded in the system, and the search crawlers want to read all of them. Also, as more towns set up automated kiosks, those devices create a steady load of requests. The end result is that instead of having a mostly idle system that spins up a server instance to respond to requests during the day, the cloud has an instance running all the time and it spins up another as needed.
I've always told towns to be prepared to spend $99/year, in case the costs rise to the point that I shouldn't just pay for this out of my own pocket. I'll leave that advice intact, but before we go there, I thought it'd be good to try supporting the site with donations.
In the initial draft of the MA Open Meeting Law regulation, internet access was not considered sufficient for 24/7 access. The regulations have since been changed, and now using this site should be all you need to comply. However, if you want to go beyond the minimum requirements of the law, and provide 24/7 viewing of this information via internet Kiosks, that is supported. You'll notice a couple "Kiosk" links on the navigation bar on the left. You can take any old computer, put it in a 24/7-accessible location (the fire station, for example), connect it to the internet, and point it at the Kiosk page. I'd recommend using Google Chrome if you can get it for the machine you are using. Connect a keyboard and hit F11 for full-screen mode (then disconnect the keyboard and mouse), and you'll have a standalone kiosk.
I've also included a "Talking Kiosk" page, because I suspect that a silent digital sign would not pass muster with the Americans with Disabilities Act. This should work on any Windows or Mac PC, using their built-in text-to-speech capacity. If you want to use Linux, email me and I'll fill you in on how to get text-to-speech working there, too.
Here are some detailed instructions about how I set up a Windows XP-based Open Meeting Kiosk.
Here are some detailed instructions about how I set up a Ubuntu Linux-based Open Meeting Kiosk.
If you want your town's meeting notices to appear on your public access station, have your PEG coordinator get in touch with me at the email address, above. The "PEG Video" link on the left will drive a Google Chrome browser on Windows or Mac with a TV-ready signal at 720x540 resolution, full screen. Just plug the audio and video outputs of that computer into the PEG uplink, and you should be all set.
The content on the site can also be accessed any time by calling the 24/7 number on the left. This is another way that towns can use the site to comply with the MA Open Meeting Law. I will add numbers in other area codes (508, 617, etc.) as towns from those regions come on line. This only costs me about $12/year for each phone number, and a penny a minute when someone calls. (And so far, my analytics show that nobody ever calls.)