Is the City of Simonton Serious about Transparency?

I missed another City of Simonton meeting...

Why did I miss a meeting?

Because the agenda for the meeting I would have attended (held a month prior to my discovery of it) hadn’t been listed anywhere on the “Minutes and Agendas” page.

I happened to stumble across the meeting agenda while looking for information about the City’s emergency management planning – on the Emergency Management page.

So, why is this a problem?

Well…because public meetings are “supposed” to be posted consistently on the city’s website – meaning in the same place every time. 

In this case, I quite reasonably expected that if a meeting was not listed on the “Minutes and Agendas” page, that there was no meeting to be held.

I say again that the meeting I would have attended wasn’t listed on this page as had been done consistently in the past. 

Again, why is this a problem?

Specifically because ALL of the OTHER Emergency Management meetings have consistently been posted on the “Minutes and Agendas” page. If the protocol for posting Emergency Management meetings was to change, the city staff should have – and easily could have – simply posted a link from the Minutes and Agendas page to the Emergency Management page for their meeting notices. But, they didn’t. Consequently, this particular posting was remarkably inconsistent with their prior meeting postings and protocol.

Transparency fail.

Consequently, regardless of intent, the meeting I would have attended had I known about it appears to have been effectively “buried” on the Emergency Management page on the city’s website.

I have to ask: How does changing web page that a single meeting notice resides benefit the citizens who might like to attend or to possibly serve with their neighbors on the Emergency Management committee?

Well, so what? Even though it was in an odd place, it was posted. Why is this still a problem?

Because people, myself included, have been trained by the city’s website to look on the Minutes and Agendas web page for public meeting announcements. Otherwise they have to scour the entire website looking for meeting postings that might be there – or not.

Repeating: Why is this a problem?

Because the City administration has an obligation to post public meetings consistently and as clearly as possible for transparency’s sake and so that ALL citizens will have the ability to attend, witness, and potentially to participate in their local government’s public meetings.

Transparency demands that our local government recognize that everyday people need to know – in as clearly-stated fashion as possible – where to look for ALL public meetings. Else, such inconsistently-posted (announced) meetings will effectively be PRIVATE and only for those that have been invited to the meetings.

Yes, it bothers me, and..

It should bother you too.

How can Simonton step up its game and be more transparent regarding meetings?

Simple. Residents have been asking for better notifications for months.

  • Continue to post agendas and notices at City Hall Bulletin Board.
  • Consistently post notices on the “Minutes and Agendas” page.

Add The Following notices to the city’s notification protocol:

  • Resume posting notices at the Simonton Post Office as had been done until the postings ceased sometime after May of 2016.
  • Post Notices consistently on the Home Page of the City Website.
  • Post Notices consistently on the City Calendar.
  • Send our Meeting Announcements consistently via Nixle notification system.

Is Social Media Appropriate?

Well, by its nature, social media is subject to private registration and requires a private internet connection. Consequently, it is not really open to the public. For this reason, social media sites are no place for official meeting announcements. But, social media can help to get the word out after all official postings have been made.

So, if the city wants to use Facebook or other social media partners for announcements and notices, that is great. Just remember that social media is not the right place for official notices and announcements.

Keep in mind, though, that if the city chooses to post any information on social media, then the city is creating new public records.

Further, the city has an obligation to add their social media links to the city website so that the public is aware of and has access to ALL postings the City of Simonton makes to official social media channels that the city uses. This, in order to ensure as much  public transparency as is possible.

In Summary,

When it comes to transparency, the residents of Simonton deserve more from their city government.