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Informing the Public

2011/04/11

The agenda for the council meeting on March 1 of this year, as posted, was 2 pages long.  Council members’ agenda packets were 130 pages long.  Just the initial outline provided in the members’ packet was twice as long as the one made readily available to the public, and gave far better information.  (How many people would readily recognize “40 Acres of the William Motley Survey A-515, Erath County,Texas, located at 2825 West Washington Street?”  Even the address might be confusing; most mapping software will show CVS, rather than FMC.)  While printing hundreds of copies of the full packet would be cost-prohibitive, making it available online would cost only a few cents per meeting for storage space and bandwidth, and would allow interested parties to print all or part of it or load it onto a phone or laptop for reference.

While some might be able to take time off work to get to City Hall during business hours on Monday or Tuesday to request more details on a particular item, this should not be necessary in a time when around 80% of all households have internet access and data storage has never been cheaper.  Decades of complete agenda packets would fit on a hard drive available for about $100.  Virtually every page of the packet started out as an electronic document; the few that are photocopies can be scanned into PDF format as easily as copied with most modern equipment.

Another problem is that minutes of meetings aren’t approved until the next meeting, and not posted until after that.  This means that anything discussed in a committee meeting isn’t available to everyone until after the next regular session, when any committee recommendations will be voted on.  This is something I have been trying to remedy to some extent through my “meeting followup” posts, but could be much more effectively addressed by posting the meeting video online.  Representative Carter’s Texas in Washington streaming video addresses are an excellent example of the effectiveness of internet video in getting a message out to everyone, and since council meetings are already video recorded, only the distribution method needs to be updated.

In summary, what I’d like to see happen; full council agenda packets posted to the website at the earliest opportunity, streaming and archived video – or at least recorded video posted within two business days – of every meeting, (including committee work sessions) agenda and minutes posting updated with more careful checking to make sure documents are not missed.  For many, attending the council meeting in person or watching it live on cable is not an option; having as much information available online as possible, and as soon as possible, will allow everyone to become more involved in local government.

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