To read submitted comments or to simply enter submitted comments into the record? That is the question Oakley City Council is seeking to answer since the implementation of their online “City Council Meeting Comment Form”.
For two consecutive City Council Meetings, citizens of Oakley have submitted comments via the online submission form only to have them entered into the record rather than read out loud. To me, this seems less complicated than the council is making it out to be. If one is submitting a form, obviously they want it read into the record—if they didn’t want it on record, one could simply send an email or have a personal conversation with a councilmember.
On Tuesday (November 8, 2011), the council will finally make a decision on how they will proceed with this item. The Agenda Item is 3.6 and the attachment provides three options the council could proceed with.
The Background Analysis of the Memorandum is rather annoying as it explains what other cities do—none of them offer full disclosure. I really do not care what other cities do, but rather I care about what Oakley does. The policy chosen must be one that provides full transparency to the citizens of Oakley and allows our voices to be heard.
Unfortunately, while Policy Option # 1 comes close, it has an “opt out” within it which defeats the purpose of submitting the form in the first place. Per the Memorandum, here are the three Policy Options:
Policy Option # 1
Staff may provide options online in which the person submitting the comment may choose to:
1) Not speak, but have the comment entered into the record; or
2) Not speak, but have the comment read into the record.
If the person wishes to speak at the meeting, they may complete a blue speaker card at the meeting. This method would provide the person submitting the comment online to have the comment read only by the City Council or to have the comment read into the record publicly.
This option would provide a method for persons who wish to be heard by the City Council, but perhaps do not want their comments publicly shared during the meeting. The comments would be included in the minutes only if the person wants the comment read into the record. Comments to be entered into the record (not read) would become part of the official records of the meeting.
Policy Option # 2
Staff may provide options online in which the person submitting the comment may choose to be:
1) In favor
This option would provide the City Council with a number count per agenda item with regard to how many persons are in favor, against or neutral on the item. The online comments would not need to be read into the record, but would become part of the official records of the meeting. The meeting minutes would reflect how many persons were in favor, against or neutral on the item, but would not mention individual names or comments. As with Policy Option # 1 , this option would provide a method for persons who wish to be heard by the City Council, but perhaps do not want their comments publicly shared during the meeting.
Policy Option # 3
This option would provide that all online comments are directed to the City Council via email. The online comments would not be read at the meeting. The online comments would not be included in the minutes; the online comments would become part of the official records of the meeting.
None of these three are perfect Policy Options as each has problems.
Option 1, as stated about has an “opt out” option.
Option 2, this is simply a poll like submission—so we can have a poll from 5 people out of 35,000 in the city as public record which will be misleading? Again, there is that opt out clause.
Option 3, this is a non-starter for me as one could find an alternative method to be heard.
It boggles my mind that if someone takes the time to submit this form, the Council seems to think the person is confused and does not want it read into the record—are citizens submitting these forms for their health?
By simply ignoring to read submitted comments (acting on it is a different story), voices from the citizens of Oakley would be silenced and essentially means the council does not have to respond unless it would be brought up via a different method.
Since this is an online form, they have many monitors at the council hall where the submission can be projected for people in attendance to read. They could also include these comments in the minutes or post them online. These are all solutions that promote greater transparency and promote trust.
While transparency is an issue, the real issue is not the submission of a comment via whatever method one choses, but rather the lack of response by the council to these comments. The council does not have to respond.
A policy that should be debated is not the submission of comments itself, but rather the type of response the council should give a citizen as a courtesy. Whether it be via electronic email, written letter, or a verbal response at the next council meeting, all would promote transparency.
Only then, would a debate on submitted comments mean something to the citizens of Oakley.