Bedford looks to keep residents informed with town website
BEDFORD — Residents who keep up with town affairs will now have more information at their fingertips.
As of the Town Council’s Oct. 9 meeting, the public will be able to view staff reports relating to items on the agenda by visiting www.bedfordnh.org.
While the information was always available upon request, adding documents to the online agendas will make it easier for residents to follow along with the council’s conversations.
Town Manager Jessie Levine gives credit to Dawn Bouffard, who has served as executive assistant since 2005.
“Thanks goes to Dawn for her relentless efforts. She’s the brainchild in getting it working. She learned how to use Google docs and link the documents to the agendas,” said Levine. “She willingly takes on any task and, in fact, is an awesome writer and saves me some time.”
Levine said there’s still some kinks to be worked out, but the goal is to post the reports with the final agenda no later than the Friday preceding the Town Council meetings, which are held the second and fourth Wednesday of the month. Meetings are at 7 p.m. at the town meeting room at BCTV, 10 Meetinghouse Road.
Town Council Chairman Chris Bandazian said the online access is a benefit for residents and is more convenient for council members and town employees.
“The credit for improved access is due our town staff for exploring the feasibility of the enhancement and implementation of the technology,” said Bandazian. “As town councilors, we can only take credit for embracing an opportunity that was presented to increase candor, transparency and information available to the public.”
Levine and Bandazian said they hope residents will become more involved in the town, and use the online access to staff reports and other documents.
“Our hope and expectation is that members of the public will take advantage of the increased ease of access to the same information that is weighed by the council, and that there will be a corresponding increase in insight and comfort,” Bandazian said.
Although, the council and other boards and commissions welcome public attendance at meetings, most people can’t take the time. Residents have more options than in previous years because of advancements in technology. In addition to watching BCTV Channels 16, 22 and 23, residents can catch up on town meetings by watching video on demand via the community access link on the town’s website.
“Community members are also an important resource for information and ideas, and ease of access may have a collateral benefit of stimulating enhanced communication with the public,” said Bandazian. “We can also anticipate that with technology, greater public engagement will most likely take place from the convenience of home or on a smart phone rather than through attendance at public meetings. Members of the public may find less need to seek information and answers by attending public meetings when there is a convenient online alternative. Paradoxically, the more people are informed and satisfied, the lower we can expect attendance to be.”
Levine said when she was hired by the Town Council in August 2012, one of her charges was to improve transparency and communications.
Now, when town councilors discuss a subject on the agenda and are referring to a staff report, the public can follow along.
“The more we can get the information out there, the better. It’s more effective to provide information electronically and immediately,” said Levine. “It now behooves the public to see what’s out there.”
Bandazian said the community was also a part of the process in enhancing communications.
“Thanks are also due the members of our local legislative body, the individual voters who attended the Bedford Budgetary Town Meeting, for adding a town office staff position this year. The voters are directly responsible for the palpable enhancements in town office workflow and service,”he said.
To access agendas and staff reports, go to the town’s website and click on the Town Council’s link on the left side of the page. Scroll down to Meeting Agendas and follow prompts. Each agenda item provides a link to the staff reports.
The public may also access planning and zoning board agendas that provide links to applications, staff reports, maps and other documents relating to specific site plans and items for discussion. Click on Boards and Committees link on the left of the website, and follow prompts to Meeting Agendas. At the top of each agenda is a link which displays a Google map of the site locations with links to the staff reports.
The town’s website also offers many documents and reports of interest to residents, as well as business owners in the area.