Meeting minutes from public entities like city councils and public universities provide citizens with almost floor-to-ceiling windows of insight into the goings-on of tax-payer supported efforts. Problem is, elected officials and those working on our dime are prone to pulling the shade, allowing the sun to shine on only portions of the minutes they seem fit to share.
That's not how it's supposed to work.
Enter electronic minute recording forms.
Since all meeting minutes in public environments are recorded, there is no reason they can't be entered into text fields as part of a customized, searchable form that can be made Web-accessible. In fact, this can be a powerful time saver for the secretaries and interns charged with keeping up with the ramblings and tirades of those sitting around the table.
The process is still rather "old-school." A tape machine (cough! 1980! cough!) or digital recorder is used to capture the audio as its happening. (Today, we call that "real time.") Post-meeting, they are put down on paper to be approved at the next meeting. Well check this out: what if the completed minutes form was hung on-line in a password-protected place for the requisite board members to access prior to the meeting? This saves paper and tons of e-mails and calls needed to verify items. Once a board member gives them a quick review, the next meetings approval goes smoothly, sans debate about contextual mistakes or semantics. Then—and here's the cool part—the minute taker simply "submits" the form to the Web site, where it's now available to the press and public, with rays of sunshine beaming all over it.
All interested citizen parties and media can subscribe to that page to receive alerts as soon the minutes form is updated. Every form can be archived, as is legally required, via a cloud-based repository. Because everything is digital, people can search for keywords within the minutes to rapidly find the appropriate subject area. Individually titled fields can be created for each meeting topic. Attendee lists with links to public bios, scanned hand-outs and even custom voting record lists could also be embedded into such a form.
Now, whether we like it or not, there are categories of information that can be held in the dark. Okay, fine; we're not here to argue that. Via the very cool minutes eform, the minute taker can assign a "closed" status to fields that are not accessible on the published version.That way, even more time can be saved by not having to manually redact or edit just those portions that people are not allowed to see. Who hasn't run into delays when requesting information because a public employee needs to pull information from a document?
So folks, are we starting to see the light on the power of eforms in the public information arena? Now it's time to push for it.
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