Sunday, October 11, 2009

October 11, 2009 One of My Public Requests Is Answered: Committee Agendas Are on the Hamblen County Website

Wow!  For a long time now, I have asked the county commission to put committee agendas and minutes on the Hamblen County website.

At long last, County Mayor David Purkey and his staff have finally done it. And it wasn't hard at all.

Click here to see the agenda for tomorrow's October 12 Finance Committee meeting.  [You will also see that agendas for nine Finance meetings long gone by (January 09-September 09) have just now been posted, and if you hit on archives, even older agendas are available.] 

[NOTE: The chairmanship of the Finance Committee has been changed by Chairman Stancil Ford.  Ford has removed Joe Spoone from his position as Finance Chairman. Ford has named Commissioner Louis "Doe" Jarvis, who was appointed earlier this year to replace Joe Swann, as Chair of this year's Finance Committee. Joe Spoone is rumored to be contemplating a run for County Trustee, a position being vacated by Bill Brittain who is running for County Mayor. Ford is the one who named Spoone as Finance Chair for 08-09, but he has replaced Spoone as Chairman for the current 09-10 year.]

The Public Services agenda for October 12, 2009, is here.  As with Finance, Public Services agendas for Jan 09-Sept 09 have just now been posted, and if you hit on archives, even older agendas are available.

When I made a request for posting of agendas and minutes of committee meetings in late 2006/early 2007, committee minutes were posted for January 2007 and then no more minutes. Agendas were posted from January 2007-August 2008 and then no more. 

Even when the Mayor and his staff stopped posting the agendas, I continued to ask privately and in public meetings for better use of the website, more information, and agendas and minutes in particular. Because I believe in open and accountable government, I am extremely pleased to see that the agendas for tomorrow's meetings have not only been posted--but they were posted BEFORE the meeting.

NOTE: An article in the local newspaper dated September 18, 2009, Page A-3, had stated that agendas would be posted after the meetings had taken place. From the article Beginning in October, Shelton (Amber Shelton, the Mayor's Executive Assistant) will post committee agendas but not until after the committees have met, she said.  The next paragraph quotes Shelton: "We're looking at putting them on before but sometimes there's just not enough time before the meetings. This way (posting the agenda after the meeting), people will have a reference so they can look back and see when an issue was discussed." 

When this article appeared in the paper, I, like most people, questioned the usefulness of an agenda posted AFTER a meeting. I knew that committee agendas are prepared and printed and mailed out to commissioners about 5 days before the committee meetings, so I knew the agendas could be posted online about 4-5 days before the meetings in order to give citizens and taxpayers a heads-up on what is coming before the committees--if the Mayor wanted it done.

The next web project should be to post MINUTES of these committee meetings. It's important to know what is going to be discussed (Agendas), but it's just as important to be able to see the minutes of those meetings to find out who was present, what discussion took place, what recommendation, if any, is coming out of the committee to the full commission, and the record of votes taken.

And, finally, a very important change would be to have those committee meetings at a time when citizens and taxpayers can actually attend if they want to.

You can have an agenda and you may be interested in a particular item that is going to be discussed, but unless you are retired or don't work or can take off work for an extended and uncertain period of time, you probably can't make it to a set of meetings that start at 11:30 AM with no set time for any meeting except for the first one.

Stancil Ford was elected to the commission in 2006 and became chairman in September 2006. Stancil, as Chairman, changed committee meetings from an afternoon meeting time to 11:30 AM and said that he changed to the 11:30 meeting time so people could attend the meetings on their "lunch hour."  Give me a break!

Stancil and several commissioners are retired. Other commissioners own their own company or have high managerial positions that allow them to leave work and attend these 11:30 AM meetings without losing pay. Working citizens and taxpayers don't have the same scheduling luxury that these commissioners have.  Stancil could change the meetings to a more taxpayer-friendly meeting time next month if he wanted to. Of course, other commissioners could also bring this up for public discussion if they wanted to see taxpayer-friendly meeting times.

The commission meets as a body once a month at 5:00 PM on the Thursday after the 3rd Monday. At commission meetings, it's usually just push-a-button, record the vote, and meeting adjourned.  

Committees of the full commission meet on the second Monday of each month. Committees are where the real discussion, if there is any, takes place, before an item is sent to the full body. More time is allowed for public input at committee meetings. Committees should meet at or near 5:00 PM like the full commission does--a more taxpayer-friendly meeting time--instead of 11:30 AM meetings which effectively shut out the average working taxpayer.

1 comment:

Tim N said...

If we had a real local newspaper one could hope editorials would support pre-meeting agendas being made public as well as convenient meeting times for citizens.