On Difficult Navigation of the Somervell County website at http://www.somervell.co/


 

On Difficult Navigation of the Somervell County website at http://www.somervell.co/
 


8 February 2019 at 9:41:22 AM
salon

I have, as readers know, a particular interest in following along with local government. I believe it's not only a civic duty but a responsibility of free citizens in the United States to keep abreast of decisions made by elected officials to the extent possible by one's circumstances. To that end, I have looked for various items govt websites such as agendas, minutes, related documents, budgets, auditor reports, and recorded media. 

I am greatly appreciative of the fact that Somervell County Commissioners Court records their meetings on audio and posts them to the Somervell County website. Michelle Reynolds is an excellent Somervell County Clerk and endeavors to keep the information updated in a timely manner. Not all of it is under her control, of course, including the handoff to a contracted IT person who puts up the audio and also maintains the website at the back end. 

I have long believed that showing the budget transfers and bills at county meetings is not just for the commissioners but also the public to follow along. In past commissioner courts, these items were included with the agenda that was available on paper or shown on the overhead at meetings. That practice stopped being done, which I think has been unfortunate,  I sent an email to Judge Danny Chambers about this on January 21, 2018

Hi Danny

I was reminded today of a process I wish would change. The budget transfers used to be itemized where they were either shown on the overhead or included in the packet of information sent out 3 days before a meeting. Not that these transfers aren’t somewhat dry but in the interest of transparency, it was always good to see exactly what was being voted on in a budget transfer as well as see the opportunity for deliberation on the items.  Here is an example of an agenda from when Mike Ford was judge-note the line items 14-20 http://somervellcountytx.iqm2.com/Citizens/FileOpen.aspx?Type=14&ID=1163&Inline=True

I have spoken with Brian Watts about this before and was told that he doesn’t include the transfers in the packet. He does put the transfers into the minutes that go up at a later time on the county website, and he has also been very good to supply me budget transfers when I have asked (and sometimes when I haven’t asked, because he knew I wanted to see them).

What I’m wondering is if it might be possible to display, on the overhead, the budget transfers during that section of the meeting, if it’s not possible for a time issue to include them in the agenda packet. Or, alternatively, to supply the written budget transfers as part of the agenda given out on paper before the meeting for the public attendees.

What do you think?

Thanks for your consideration

I also discussed this, after,  with new Precinct 2 commissioner Dwayne Johnson. I heard informally from another commissioner that a change to make budget transfers more transparent is in the works. 

Meantime, if you want to look for budget transfers on the website, it's a terrible process. Same thing with trying to figure out where the minutes are, after they have been approved. Here is an email, as part of a longer conversation in which I was trying to figure out where some things were,  I sent to Michelle Reynolds regarding this.

Michelle

Let me put this into the form of a request to the IT department, with a comment. I’m including Danny Chambers on this, not because I think this is an issue with you at all, but because it also seems like this is a procedural issue of where to put the items.

Some items on the Somervell County site need to be fixed or reorganized in order to make it more intuitive for citizens to find information. In my opinion, no one should have to call in to ask for where a particular item or report is in order to find them, but it should be obvious from the website.

Example 1: Court Minutes.  Under County Offices/Court Minutes. Clicking on Court Minutes brings up a blank page.

http://www.somervell.co/county-offices/commissioners-court/court-minutes/

If one mouses over the Court Minutes to a side pull out menu, only 2017, 2016, and 2015 are represented. (No 2018 or 2019 section) Of these 3 menu options, only 2015 is complete, with 2016 through April 2016 and nothing on 2017.

How does, then, one find the minutes? Besides obviously expecting that the minutes would be under the Court Minutes section, otherwise, one goes to the Portal, which is found under County Offices/Commisser’s Court/Court Agendas/Somervell County Commissioners Court Meeting Portal.  There is nothing on the page that comes up to indicate where any minutes might be. If one clicks the link for a given past meeting, for example, December 31, 2018 link on the left hand side (not the agenda or agenda packet link), there is nothing on the page to indicate that any meetings are included in any document. I know because I had to call in and ask, that the Adjourn Meeting link has the minutes, if approved. Clicking on that link again does not have any text indication that there are minutes anywhere. There is “Signed Motion and Notes” which, clicking, downloads a PDF file. Eureka! There are the minutes, who knew?

Comparing again a part of the website that clearly says “COURT MINUTES” but doesn’t have them to this convoluted method of drilling down AND REQUIRING THE ASSISTANCE OF THE CLERK to figure out what where they are. This should not be. Seems to me that this can be fixed to be actually helpful to the community by 1. Actually putting the minutes with a link on the “Court Minutes” section and ensuring they are up to date or 2.  Adding a menu item to the right of the “Agenda” and “Agenda Packet” that says “Court Minutes” which has a link to the actual minutes. I assume since there are empty spaces on that menu that this can be done.

Example 2: Budget Transfers, or really any other action that was taken that was voted on by the court and is now listed as a DOC on the agenda link.  Since these are *agendas* and not *minutes*, to somehow know that the documents listed in the first link on the left include actions after the fact (including signed motions, deeds, etc, is not intuitive. Suppose I am looking for budget transfers for Dec 10, 2018  http://somervellcountytx.iqm2.com/Citizens/Detail_Meeting.aspx?ID=1377 and I click the first link on the left on that date page. #15 says “Doc-2018-327 Approve Budget Transfers but does not indicate that the doc IS the budget transfers. If I click “Agency Request Printout” it has nothing in it, so it’s the DOC link one must click . Clicking that DOC link shows me “Printout” and “Signed Motion and Report”. The Printout is nothing. So finally, I find the budget transfers by clicking “Signed Motion and Report”. What I wonder is if it would be possible to put some kind of help text ON THE PAGE that has the DOC files saying something to the effect that “To find the actual reports and signed motions, click DOC –XXXX” (rather than Agenda Request Printout which is pretty useless) , and “Signed Motion and Report” on interior page. That would save a question to Michelle, and she has told me I’m not the only person she has had to help figure out where stuff is.

There is also a website error that needs fixed. If, while on the page that has the agendas with the DOC links on it, one wants to go back to main site and clicks that link in the upper left hand corner, the link errors out with a 404 link, looks like it is trying to go to a previous doman link http://www.co.somervell.tx.us/

Thank you

Michelle told me that Dwayne Johnson had decided to take on some fixing of the website and I forwarded my comments to him. 

It should not require having to call Michelle to figure out where public records are on the website, but be clear and intuitive. I'm glad this is being looked into

 

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