Thursday, August 21, 2008

Whoaaa Nellie! Talk about a contrast...

I would imagine that my mouth dropped open Monday night at the School Board meeting when Bob Todd, School Board, brought up expanding the meeting minutes to include MORE information! Talk about a contrast!

Sometime in the past year the Fayette County Board of Commissioners decided behind the cloak of silence to stop including most info in their meeting minutes. All of a sudden we went from being able to pull minutes up on the web and see why someone voted for an issue and the debate between Commissioners to a cut and dried "here's the vote" with some occasional tidbits.

No public discussion at all, they just made the change. Commissioner Peter Pfeifer started bringing attention to the matter publicly and it became a campaign issue. Unfortunately, most people have a tendency to discount things when they're brought up during an election as "campaign rhetoric" and thus I don't feel this one got the attention it deserved.

Commissioner Jack Smith talked about the fact the County had audio for anyone who wanted to listen, but who's going to listen to two or three hours of discussion to try and find the issue that interests them? How many are going to make the trek to the Commission office to get a copy of the audio?

It used to be that the transcript, almost verbatim, was available on-line. In his justification for keeping the public in the dark, Smith said people weren't coming into the office to get the minutes. Well, duh. Why go into the office to get them when you can click a button and get them on-line? How does he know how many people copy them and distribute them to friends? Is the County keeping up with how many people click on a certain page of minutes?

Back to the School Board...

It's an interesting discussion and well worth watching the video (posted below). The School Board doesn't go quite as far as I'd like or reach the conclusion I'd really like (full transcript), but they made huge strides in the right direction. I learned some things also when Janet Smola talked about the direction the Board had received from the state. Interesting.

Two problems immediately come to mind with audio or video records only:

1. If you're deaf, you're out of luck. Sooner or later someone is going to sue.
2. You have to sift through sometimes hours of info to find a particular issue.

The Fayette County Commission fell back on the "gee we're complying with the law" rationale for keeping information from the public. It was refreshing to hear the School Board discussing the possibility of giving more access and information. Kudos for heading in the right direction!

Just a side tidbit of info: I've had a number of discussions with the School Board regarding their meetings over the past few months. It's clear to me that they want more involvement, more to attend their meetings. I've been to a handful of meetings this year, and aside from those involving redistricting, attendance mirrors that of the County Commission --- sparse to say the least. At some meetings the only ones there other than staff were the reporters. Sad.

If the video below doesn't work, click here to see on Google:

Community News You Can Use

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good news, your favorite anonymous commenter finally agrees with you on a subject of importance.

More detailed minutes just makes sense.

I don't understand why the commissioners have not changed the format. It seems to me that it is a politically amateur move. Perhaps Jack and company (who I often otherwise admire and agree with) will finally get smart and follow the school board's lead. Not giving credit to Pfeifer's very public complaints perhaps turned out to be the politically savvy move, but its important for politicians to admit when they are wrong.

I am one Jack Smith's biggest fans and even I think he's wrong on the minutes issue. During the campaign season I visited the county office and requested a copy of the minutes. After a brief wait, the courteous staff accommodated and handed me a c.d. with a packet of instructions.

I was pleased initially (especially since the meeting had just taken place the night prior), but when I went home and tried to listen to the meeting, I discovered that the c.d. was a PC audio file that could not be accessed with a standard audio c.d. player, or (much to my chagrin) an apple computer.

As much as Pfeifer's grandstanding annoyed me (and the minutes were not perfect before), he was probably right on this one specific issue.