Monday, January 22, 2007

Transparency -- City edition

The Traffic Council has a proposal, currently before the Public Safety & Transportation (PS&T) committee, to give the council authority to make certain decisions itself. It's a good plan.

Before the PS&T committee, during public comment on the proposal, I mentioned that this might be an opportunity to provide greater transparency into the process of traffic petitions. Based on some of the reaction, my comments merit require some clarification.

Considering the word narrowly, there is no dire problem with the transparency of the Traffic Council or, as far as I know, any aldermanic committees, including PS&T. You can go online and find out what the Council considered and how it voted. It's not always easy to find information, but the record is there.

When I spoke about transparency, I meant the word in a broader sense: whether it is possible and how easy it is to find out the whole picture, not just the decisions of elected or appointed officials, but the full record that relates to the decision.

In a not-so-ideal world, I should easily be able to find for each docketed item:

  • The initial petition
  • Correspondence related to the item
  • Reports and presentations related to the item
  • Activity on the item, including a digital recording of consideration of the item
  • Next steps for the item
  • Resolution
Some of this information is available in the agendas, but to get the full picture, you have to work your way through the agendas, which is tedious, at best.

Some correspondence and related reports are available with the printed agenda, at the meeting. But, this does not provide adequate opportunity to review, digest, and respond.

If you want related reports or presentations that are not in the meeting materials (or if you want them electronically), you have to make a request through the city clerk. It's not a huge hassle, but how many people are going to do it?

All the information listed should be available online on a single page (or set of pages) for each docketed item.

And, there should be a list of pending items before each committee, commission, council, etc., that link you to the page for each item.

Providing full transparency in the larger sense is going to take a much broader initiative than the proposed changes to the Traffic Council, but the Traffic Council could take some interim steps.

Here are two:
  • Maintain a list of pending and resolved items. For each item, provide a brief description and a list the reports of the meetings in which the item was considered.
  • Post all city-generated materials along with agendas and meeting reports. For most meetings, this would mean at least Mr. Schuckel's presentations.
By the way, transparency is a much bigger problem with other types of petitions before the alderman.

Related: Transparency - Commonwealth edition

1 comment:

Chuck Tanowitz said...

Why not tag the information with an agreed-upon list of tags? That way anyone looking for information can sort it accordingly and be able to dig through it quickly.

This is the same concept you would use in a general blog, but you must create a consistent group of tags.