To the News Enterprise:
I read with interest the recent editorial and your article this week on the new Freedom of Information Law amendment that requires municipalities and other public entities to publish online all materials prior to their meetings. As someone who has worked diligently since February 2012 to comply with this law, I felt compelled to respond to a couple of points that have been made by Denton Publications.
First, a correction. The Meeting Packet published prior to our Town Board meeting does, in fact, include the minutes of the prior meeting. I have no idea if that bumps us from B to A, but it should be noted.
Second, complying with the law is not easy. In fact, at times, it has been really difficult for us. There are two reasons for that. The first is that publishing “meeting materials” if taken literally, is more than an agenda and minutes. At our Jan. 17 meeting, we considered four contracts, several letters, a dam inspection report, nine resolutions, and financial report materials that spanned 10-12 pages.
Fortunately, we purchased a photocopier last year that allows us to turn these multiple documents into an electronic pdf file which makes it a little easier to get the information published. Unfortunately, internet outages in Minerva are frequent. There was a period of about two weeks last year when we did not have Internet at our town hall at all except in fits and starts that weren’t long enough to allow us to load our meeting packet. At times, I have had to take our packet on a flash drive and emailed it to our webmaster from another location. When things are loaded on our website, we have often had complaints about the amount of time it takes to download the packet due to the internet service quality issues that our constituents share.
Our Town Board meets twice per month. This means that we are attempting to publish a 25-50 page document every two weeks. We were also criticized by some of our constituents for not publishing at least two days prior to each board meeting-even though the law sets no such requirement. We have been trying to meet that expectation but that makes it even harder to comply with the law. We have also made hard copy of the board packet available at the meeting. Never knowing how many people will be there, we make 20 copies or so. This means that we end up recycling hundreds of pages after most meetings.
For 2013, I am changing the way that we do the board packets. From this point forward, the materials will be available during business hours in a binder in front of the main office at our town hall for all to review. The board will receive those documents by e-mail as I receive them. The board packet will include the agenda, minutes, an expanded Supervisor’s Report that will summarize the materials and several department reports, and the financial report. We plan to publish two days prior and may publish a final version of the packet (that may or may not make it to the Internet) on the day of the meeting.
After your article appeared, I received an email from our webmaster. Apparently, adding an archive function to our site will double the cost of our website. Not sure we’ll go there this year since we didn’t budget for it, but we’ll see.
As someone with a master’s degree in Technical Communications, I value good information presented well. What we do not have with this meeting and production schedule, is time to adequately proof and edit the documents. Spell check only goes so far. As journalists, I’m sure that you and your colleagues at Denton Publications appreciate the value of the editing function.
As a fan of the Freedom of Information Law and as someone who is passionate about state and local government, I will continue to do my best to comply with the new amendment. But, as important as it is, it will never be easy.
Sue Montgomery Corey, Minerva Town Supervisor