Local governments such as city, town, or county boards and commissions have a responsibility to provide their constituents with access to information that is pertinent to the community. This information includes the activities of public meetings held to consider the business of the district over which the government entity presides. Anyone who has attended local government meetings in various locales knows that few governments respond as well as they should or could to the demands for open information systems available to their citizens. That is not to say that the local government is attempting to prevent the dissemination of information, rather in most cases they either do not know how or fail to take advantage of the easiest methods of information management.
We live in a completely digital age where advancements in technology have placed access to all forms of information and communication literally at our finger tips. Local governments can take advantage of this technology to keep the members of their communities better informed and able to participate with elected officials in improving the quality of life in their village, town, or city. The following suggestions are not difficult to implement and discuss technologies available to improve the communication aspects of local government meetings.
Every local government meeting should be recorded and made available on the Internet for interested parties to review. Live web-casting is well within the means of most communities and involves those individuals that otherwise might not be able to attend an open public session. At the very least, posting meeting recording on the government entities website would be a minimal expectation of technology savvy community leaders.
Using a software program to manage meeting agendas offers local government officials a number of useful options. The ability to create and post an agenda in advance alerts involved citizens to the topics that will be discussed. Using agenda management software with an email interface allows individuals to subscribe to a mailing list where not only the agenda, but meeting minutes and any additional information relative to the council meeting could be distributed.
While it is not necessary to have votes cast electronically on meeting agenda items, communities that are dedicated to open and transparent government should maintain an electronic record of votes cast so that citizens may evaluate elected officials based on the decisions they make on the behalf of the electorate.
When citizens empower their government to spend tax dollars on specific projects designed to improve the community, the citizens deserve to have an account of the fiscal responsibility of their elected officials. Using commercial project management software that can track the progress and financial activities of a community road project, village school upgrade project or other multi step financial endeavor the government council takes on is a wise investment. Allowing citizens to view posts of timeline reports and financial outlays enables them to have more confidence in the manner in which tax dollars are being spent.
These suggestions are basic steps that local officials can take to involve their citizenry in the open affairs of government. Each suggestion could be accomplished with a minimum of expense and the increased availability of critical pieces of information would justify the cost. Working to improve local government meeting and the flow of information related to those meeting is a responsibility more elected officials should strive to accomplish during their tenure in office.