June 18, 2015  Independent Record
Alison Noon, Associated Press

Directors at six state agencies say they’ll be ready to record their meetings when new transparency laws requiring them to do so take effect this year.

Five agency boards must make video or audio recordings of their meetings available online or on television within one working day beginning July 1. They include the Board of Public Education, Board of Investments, teachers’ and public employees’ retirement boards and the Board of Regents.

“We’re learning as we go but anything we can do to make it easier for people to get the information saves everybody time and avoids misinformation,” Board of Public Education Director Pete Donovan said.

The Board of Pardons and Parole is facing an October deadline to video and audio record most hearings and meetings under a different law that came with at least $234,000 to provide the service for two years and no deadline to publish the records.

The parole board holds meetings more frequently than the other agencies and must remove victims’ identities and sensitive information from the recordings before publishing them. That law was passed in the wake of inmate complaints that the board’s decisions are sometimes capricious.

Pardons and Parole Director Timothy Allred said the board was provided money to record from the governor’s office’s contingency fund, including $57,300 for multiple cameras, software and other equipment. It also includes $72,910 each of the next two years for the salary, benefits and retirement of a new employee who will record, redact, publish and archive meetings and hearings. Allred said the rest of the funding will cover storage of the digital records and training, travel and phone expenses for the employee.

The other boards were not provided funding to accompany the new requirements, but directors and chairmen said they have ample staff time and equipment to record meetings at their various buildings in Helena.

“My biggest concern is just making sure the quality of the recording, whether it’s video or audio, is of the quality where the user can actually hear who’s speaking and what’s being said,” Teachers Retirement Director Shawn Graham said.

The regents, public education and public employees’ retirement boards are already sharing audio or video recordings on their websites. The coming months will be the first time the teachers, investments, and parole boards’ public meetings are widely accessible