Technology Should Support Community Understanding of Council Actions

Many in our community felt strongly about last night’s Charlottesville city council agenda.  Those who could not attend the meeting or watch it (the video live stream was down), looked to professional journalists on Twitter to follow along.  Thankfully, local media had at least three members present Chris Suarez (Daily Progress), Henry Graff (NBC 29), and a staff member from C-ville Weekly.  These journalists are competent, professional, and have a strong working knowledge of the city council.  Therefore, it was somewhat disconcerting to all when tweets such as below started emerging.

These tweets underscored something that we’ve felt strongly about for some time.  At Smart Cville, our mission is not to comment on the merits of different resolutions before the council.  However, we believe that in order to meet its commitment to transparency, responsiveness, and engagement the city council must pursue an improved technology solution to track council voting and resolutions.  The resolutions and ordinances should be historically searchable by number, including full text and any amendments approved during the meeting.  Residents should be able to search the full text of these documents by keyword.  Ideally, meeting agendas would be tied into this system and could even allow for personalized citizen alerts.

Albemarle County’s Legistar system

In Albemarle County, the Board of Supervisors has a system that it is far from ideal.  Nevertheless, even here, the technology exists to post agendas, minutes, and actions all in one place.  Legistar, the software the County uses, is deeply flawed but it’s at least a centralized location for these items.  The city does a great job providing the entirety of its minutes, as full text, to citizens.  However, the minutes grow to be quite long and it’s too difficult to cull specifics from a meeting (like individual motions, resolutions, amendments, and voting records).  Moreover, should a resolution or ordinance be acted on, the minutes do not include or link to the full text.  This is especially concerning if changes are made to resolutions that publicly available in the agenda background notes or if resolutions are amended or created on the fly.

Admittedly, technology is not a panacea and these solutions do not come easily.  However, when it comes to transparency, responsiveness, and engagement technology would be a welcome partner to the human element that already exists in strong fashion at these meetings.  We already have a robust and professional local news contingent and a hard working clerk of council.  However, they sure could use an assist from modern technology … it’s time.

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