THE HUNTER REPORT
Your Right to Know
Commissioners view chatroom demonstration prepared by IT Dept. Rarely is this techology used to share information with public attending meetings.
Secrecy or Open Government 21st Century Technology
By: Pat Hunter
At the March 15th commission workshop meeting, commissioners and citizens observed a demonstration by Steve Fritts, IT Director. Fritts used a laptop computer, overhead projector and built in projector screen to inform everyone about a proposed on-line chat room forum. He explained the process to everyone. He demonstrated how commissioners could log into the forum and how to post comments. Comments may not be changed and will be archived for 1 year. The comments are not expected to take up much space on the computer so the information could be archived up to 5 years if commissioners wish to do so. The chat room would allow commissioners to communicate and exchange information with one another. The public would be able to view commissioners on-line comments but the public would not not be able to communicate directly with commissioners. Three documents were distributed to commissioners but not to the public. Commissioner Don Miller encouraged the other commissioners to use the chat room.
At the last commission workshop, I spoke and requested that commission utilize the county's technology to provide information on the county website. Utilizing the website would also eliminate the need for making paper copies. Commissioner Shaver followed up on this matter. Do we have the capability to post the supporting information to the website, asked Commissioner Austin Shaver. IT Director said that he would love to put information on the website and that he and the clerk were working to do so. There was a short discussion about commissioners setting a deadline date so the information could be posted on a timely manner. Commissioners seemed to forget that they had adopted the Loudon County Procedural Rules, which outlines the procedure and cut off dates for submitting items to the agenda for commission and workshop meetings!
Although taxpayers foot the bill for the IT department, citizens are not afforded the same opportunity to access complete packet of information on the Loudon County gov website! The same packet information that is provided to commissioners before commission, workshop and committee meetings. Commissioners receive a packet of information related to pending or upcoming matters, matters and issues that affect your quality or life, road issues, planning and zoning, taxation, budget matters, which you help finance, etc. Extra copies of commission packets are not readily available to citizens at workshop or commission meetings.
It's the 21st Century and people of all ages, young children and seniors, use computers to access information and communicate on the internet. People may access information or communicate with others across town, country and other parts of the world with this modern technology. Some people don't want to use a computer and that's ok. But for those who want to communicate or do business on the internet, computers are convenient and necessary. For people who don't own computers, computers are now located in schools, public libraries government buildings, business and industry. A newly released study shows that one third of the public (77 Million people) now use computers in public libraries to communicate with others, look for jobs, improve their life or do homework. Wi-fi service is now available in coffee shops and restaurants so people can plug in and access the internet but not in the county government buildings.
The county has an information technology (IT ) department and the county conference room is equipped with audio video equipment. Complete packet information can easily be prepared in a format to put on the county website. High speed scanning equipment and software make it easy to scan documents. Most of the time, documents are prepared using Excel and a word processor software and converting this information to a file and format to post on the internet is easy to do and takes very little time.
How much longer will the public tolerate being kept in the dark about issues that affect the community? Democracy depends on an informed electorate. Will commissioners actually use the county's technology to provide information to the public and promote open transparent government?
21st Century Technology or Back to the deep dark cave