Regular readers know that one of the main reasons I started getting meeting notices and posting them some years back was that I wanted to know about and attend meetings and it simply wasn't convenient (nor did I always remember) to go down and look at the bulletin board on the courthouse square. Kind of amazingly to me, I have been video and audio recording meetings for at least 5 years now. (Here's a link, for example, to a meeting I recorded in March, 2005, although the videos have been moved from that location now). When I haven't been able to attend meetings, I have made a concerted effort to get audio from the governmental entities and post them. I don't have them all, of course, but quite a few. Why? Well, it's a hobby, I like the government meetings and I always have in the back of my mind that others may be like me and want to know what goes on with their elected officials but can't always, for whatever reason, attend the meetings.
At the same time that I've been posting the notices, I have been asking, particularly in the case of Somervell County Commissioners Court, for them to post the audio online. Okay.That's selfish of me because I want to be able to just go to the Somervell County website and get the audio within a reasonable amount of time after a meeting and listen to it, and there's been a problem with this that I have heard about for at least the last two years. And that problem is that there is a bottleneck where ONE GUY is responsible for updating the county website. One man. Instead of training other people to do it as well for the last few years (I say few years because that's now long I have been asking) , it just doesn't get done. And of course, the meeting notices or agendas and minutes aren't on the website either.
Let's look. This is a screen shot I did yesterday of the Somervell County website at glenrose.org (February 7 2010). When you look at the main page, you see there's a notice for the Tax Rate Order 2010
So let's say you want to go see the public notices, like, for example, to know when the different commissioner's court meetings are. Nada.
I'm not saying that seeing the budget summary isn't important, of course it is, but where are the OTHER public notices, like minutes, agendas, etc?
Just as a contrast, here's the City of Glen Rose which DOES post the notices.
Including, you notice, the one for tonight.
So, you can look on the CITY internet website without having to go downtown to the bulletin board and look and you will be prepared and know what the agenda is. Personally, I think EVERYONE ought to be able to see the agends without too much fuss because there's always a strong possibility that something being discussed will affect YOU.
I might mention that GRISD has always been putting their meeting notices on the sites, always, and have stepped up in the last 6 months to putting their board packets and minutes up there, and are planning to put up audio and even videos. The Somervell County Water District puts up the meeting dates and notices and minutes. Although they haven't done it yet because they are such a new entity, the Somervell County Hospital Authority dba Glen Rose Medical Center is going to maintain a website or perhaps a place on the existing Glen Rose Medical center site, not sure, where the public can see the minutes, etc.
Is it that it is a long and tedious and hard process to put up meeting notices and minutes? Nope. Anyone that has done a copy and paste or created a simple link in a web publishing program knows that is easy. It's also a simple process, provided someone has the access to do it, to copy a file to a server and link to it. Takes only a few minutes, if that. The problem, at least to me, is that the people who you would think should be able to do this don't have the access, and again the bottleneck goes to ONE person.
I have also heard, for a long while, that there were and are plans to have yet another website that would be updated by each department head in Somervell County. Apparently there was a technology committee created last year, headed by Precinct 2 Commissioner Mike Ford, and it met 2 or 3 times, the last time in October. At that point there was supposed to be some training for the heads. Nada. And it's going to be on a completely different website domain name. I was told this morning that the next meeting will be in mid-February. In other words, it doesn't appear anything has been done.
But more than that. at least to me, this is like two trains going down two different tracks. Okay. So there are plans to do X and Y and Z with the new domain. Meantime NOTHING gets done with the old website? (Let me emphasize here: There is ALREADY A WEBSITE. YOU CAN GO THERE. The new one that may or may not get done is irrelevant to the FACT that there is an internet site NOW that people see and is wanting). I mean, how hard is it to put meeting notices and minutes up there? Not hard, not time consuming, but it IS a problem if it isn't made a priority for the IT guy.
I wondered who the IT guy reports to and if he does monthly reports or there are reports of what his *trouble tickets* or *service requests* are. He reports to the county commissioners, does not have to present a monthly report to the court, but it does look like a new software system would be able to generate a report of who he responds to when. To me, on the first two, where is his accountability? Yours and My taxes are paying for this guy, who is am employee of Somervell County. Don't you think the commissioners, who seem to be HIS boss, ought to be making him post the meeting notices, minutes and audio before and after the meetings? Hey. Let me say again, he doesn't work for himself, he works for US and the commissioners are supposed to be the ones to be sure he is.
Now, admittedly, again, I believe that everybody has potentially the same interest that I do in wanting to find out about meetings before hand. But it isn't just a wish of mine. According to the Texas Open Meetings Act, if an entity has a website they maintain, they are SUPPOSED TO put the notices up there. See page 35 of the act
§ 551.056. Additional Posting Requirements for Certain Municipalities, Counties,
School Districts, Junior College Districts, and Development Corporations
Section 551.056 requires certain governmental bodies and economic development corporations
to post notice on their Internet Web sites, in addition to other postings required by the Act. This
provision applies to the following entities, if the entity maintains an Internet Web site or has a
Web site maintained for it:
(1) a municipality;
(2) a county;
(3) a school district;
(4) the governing body of a junior college or junior college district, including a
college or district that has changed its name in accordance with Chapter 130,
Education Code; and
(5) a development corporation organized under the Development Corporation
Act (Subtitle C1, Title 12, Local Government Code).175
(6) a regional mobility authority included within the meaning of an “authority”
as defined by Section 370.003, Transportation Code.176
If a covered municipality’s population is 48,000 or more and a county’s population is 65,000 or
more, it must also post the agenda for the meeting on its Web site.177 Section 551.056 also
provides that the validity of a posted notice made in good faith to comply with the Act is not
affected by a failure to comply with its requirements due to a technical problem beyond the
control of the entity.178
In other words, for the county (because indeed the county is part and parcel of the definition above) NOT to post a meeting notice on the website is BREAKING THE LAW. Here are a couple of other examples of this, one from the City of Austin
The City of Austin
posts meeting notices on the official bulletin
board at City Hall. Notices must be posted
and accessible to the public for at least 72
hours prior to the meeting. The Act also
requires a city, county, school district, or
sales tax economic development
corporations publish a notice of its meetings
on its Internet website. The posting on the
Internet must also be accessible to the
public for at least 72 hours prior to the
meeting. The validity of an internet posting
made in good faith is not affected by failure
to provide notice due to technical problems
beyond the control of the local entity.
And this is from the Texas Municipal League. It's an HTML cache so it looks a little funky
Individual notice is not required
Accessibility: A governmental body must post its notice in a place that is “readily accessible to the general public for all times for at least 72 hours” before the meeting is scheduled to start (e.g., bulletin board/kiosk outside of city hall or on the door of city hall)
Internet posting: Cities are now required to post notice on the city’s Internet Web site
When a city posts notice on its Internet Web site, the physical notice has to be readily accessible to general public only during normal business hours instead of at “all times.”
To summarize. I think the people in charge of making sure that the websites are properly maintained RIGHT NOW for the citizens of Somervell County are not doing their job. It's not the fault of the clerks who create the agendas, post them or copy them if they can't put them on the website. It IS the responsibility of the commissioners, and in particular, of the commissioner who heads up the Technology committee (I understand that is Mike Ford) , NOT to wait to fix this, particularly since the law is being broken, but to get the IT person to update the existing website NOW.
P.S. I heard second hand that Mr Ford said that once this new website that is in who knows what shape gets done, there will no longer be any need for open records requests. That's really an uninformed statement. Unless he includes posting all his emails regularly, including the ones where he uses county equipment to solicit money for the Lions Club using his commissioner title. Or the emails where he wrongly says that Somervell County did not loan money to the Glen Rose Medical Foundation through that 14.5 miliion CO.