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Tuesday March 18 we’ll have a new article at CCN, here’s the text of our first article:

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

A guest article from BOLT Staffing especially for CaliforniaCityNews
It doesn’t matter what type of organization you work in—you can’t achieve maximum efficiency unless you allow for change. Being open to change is not always an easy thing, but clearly new technologies and new ideas are presenting us with opportunities to change, grow, and improve. Local government, now faced with a new set of realities, is an institution primed to try new ideas and test new technologies as it seeks to provide for its citizens while preserving the public trust.
Organizing, recording, and making available to all the work that local government does on the people’s behalf is not only a huge time-consuming task — it’s a sacred trust.  This transparency is really a cornerstone of American democracy. We citizens need to know not only what action was taken on our behalf, but also why that action was taken.
So it was with more than a passing interest we examined the article about a city whose city clerk hadn’t produced traditional written minutes of their council meetings in over a year. There were audio/visual recordings of all the past Council meetings but no written minutes.
This didn’t sit well with some members of that council. The council members discussed the issue and explored various alternatives including incurring the additional expense of bring in a professional minute recorder at a cost of $65 per hour.
Think about it: $65 per hour? Did they really mean for every hour of every Council meeting?  We have seen City Council meetings where the public comment portion of that meeting lasted more than six hours alone. These days, nearly every government agency is looking for ways to save money. Budgets are tight. Couldn’t that $65 per hour be better spent somewhere else?
Which leads to the question: How cost effective is it to continue to produce written minutes when we have a complete audio/visual recording of the entire meeting? Isn’t it redundant? Couldn’t a city clerk’s valuable time be better spent on something other than producing a written duplicate copy of a meeting already recorded in full?
Here’s something more to consider: on top of having the recorded account of the meeting, many agencies post those recordings online, giving the citizens free, 24/7 access for viewing. Some cities also utilize software that allows the citizen to merely click on the agenda item taking them directly to that item’s discussion and subsequent action. No more fast forwarding or having to wade through the whole meeting. One click and you’re where you want to be viewing what you wanted to see.
Hold on, some will say. Not everyone has access to a computer or knowledge of the Internet. Here are some numbers to ponder.  According to a 2013 PPIC study, 86% of all Californians currently use the Internet, up from 70% in 2008. And that’s a number that continues to rise.
Clearly not everyone has Internet access in their homes. But we don’t mail a copy of every agenda and minutes to every household now.  Currently, if you want a copy of an agency’s minutes you have to contact a city hall, or the county offices, or the local school district office, etc. If you didn’t have Internet access in your home, couldn’t you go to any of these offices or maybe your local library and access the meeting recordings there?
Additionally, there doesn’t appear to be a legal distinction between written or recorded minutes.  All audio or visual recordings made by government bodies are subject to the same public information standards as traditional written minutes (City Attorneys, we’d love to hear from you on this point). Why continue to produce written minutes when you’re already paying for audio/visual recordings? If combined with online postings, those recordings provide for easy public access to any current or past meeting at any time of the day. That seems to be the ultimate in government transparency.
Every day local governments are finding new ways to use technology to do the people’s business in a more productive and cost efficient manner. Local government moves forward, but only at the speed that our citizens allow. Move too fast and the citizens will let you know in no uncertain terms that you’ve gone too far. Move too slowly and hear the complaints that government bureaucracy is out of touch with modern times.
How do city clerks meet the challenge of moving forward while still maintaining the public trust? Do we need to continue taking minutes? What cost effective ways has your department come up with to meet the requirements of transparent governance while working within the boundaries of a seemingly ever shrinking budget?
At BOLT Staffing we believe that positive change and innovation is a good thing.  We partner every day with cities, counties, and special districts providing them with both long term and short term staffing solutions that are cost effective, productive, and solution oriented. We invite your comments below.


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