Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Commentary on Calendar Change

Of all the pitfalls in changing the City Council’s meeting schedule, the most serious one appears to be providing proper notice to the public.

The governing body changed its schedule in 2006 from the traditional Mondays-only plan to one that called for an agenda-fixing session on a Monday, with a regular meeting on Wednesday of the same week. In 2008, the council reverted to the Mondays-only schedule. This year, the council agreed to hold just one agenda-fixing session and one regular meeting per month, with four of the agenda-fixing sessions at schools in the city’s four wards. The 2006 innovation of “working conference” meetings on a single topic will also be revived.

In all three instances of calendar change, the City Council started the year by adopting one annual calendar that was then changed following passage of amendments on two readings, with 20 more days before taking effect. This landed the launch date of the new schedule somewhere in April. The old caveat against changing horses in midstream comes to mind when one thinks of all the pitfalls in accurately publicizing the new schedule.

At present, there is misinformation or missing information on the city web site, in the official newspaper and on Channel 74. This is due in part to the proposed new calendar having several conflicts and errors, such as scheduling meetings on legal holidays or double-booking meetings. Councilman Rashid Burney has worked out a master calendar which is still being refined. For example, the first working conference has two different locations even on Burney’s latest calendar.

The bottom line for the transition will be publication of the official legal notice in coming weeks. Meanwhile, special notice for the Feb. 9 agenda-fixing session did not include the time of the meetings, but did include erroneous dates for the other three meetings at schools. Channel 74’s bulletin board lists wrong dates and the city web site has a Frankenstein blend of the Jan. 1 calendar and the new meeting locations. News articles, relying on verbal announcements of new dates, inadvertently perpetuated the errors.

The public is ill-served by having all this misinformation out there. As frequent council commenter Dr. Harold Yood observed, the 2006 changes resulted in a sharp drop-off of citizen attendance at council meetings. The new changes are supposed to enhance public participation and transparency in government. But until all city channels of communication get accurate information to convey, the public’s opportunity to participate in civic life will be marred.

The first step is to make sure legal notice for the upcoming working conference includes the correct time, date and location. Then before publication of the new calendar, the council and the City Clerk’s office need to double-check and agree on all the information.

Public meetings are subject to the Open Public Meetings Act, also known as the Sunshine Law. Lack of proper notice, for whatever reason, is a serious offense. Important decisions can be overturned and officials can suffer consequences due to Sunshine Law violations. So for both the sake of public participation and the need to give proper notice, this new calendar must be made as complete and correct as humanly possible. And all the bad information floating around out there must be purged as soon as possible.

--Bernice Paglia


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Come on Stimulus Package - Kick in Gear so the City can manage to work out a calendar, hire an IT person for $130,000 and have it posted n the City Web Site

7:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It takes a salary of $139,000 to post the correct meeting dates? This city has no leadership. Forget the stimulus package I cant wait until November.

10:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's see...how much does it take to mess up something as easy as an annual calendar. Salaries of Mayor, City Administrator, 7 Council Members, 3 Mayor's staff people....Yeah, you're right...can't wait until November

11:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bernice, If the higher ups can not get the calendar right, you can not imagine how day to day actions in the Annex and City Hall are. You have to keep a score card of what new idea has been verbally given and by whom. Please keep up the good work, us pions[?] need to see we are not the ones causing so much confusion to the public

9:59 PM  

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