Recently Sedgwick County implemented a new system for making its commission agendas and accompanying background material available online.
Previously, only the agenda itself was available online. Agendas contain just a brief description of each item to be handled at meetings. If citizens wanted more information about an item, they had to travel to the courthouse to obtain a printed copy of the agenda report. This document, which might be several hundred pages in length, contains detailed information about each item. It’s the type of information that citizens need if they are to be informed about the matters the commission will consider at each meeting.
The new system makes this information available online. It also handles the minutes and video of past meetings. You can access the system through the Sedgwick County website. Navigate to the County Commission page (the drop-down box at the top right is easy and always available.) Then in the stack of links at the right of the screen, click on Commission Meetings.
Now if you click on any meeting on or after August 25, 2010, you’ll be in the new agenda system.
Using the new system, I found that it took a few moments to become familiar with the way the system organizes the agenda information. Once you get used to it, you can move around the agenda and examine supporting documents easily. Background material is usually presented in small chunks as pdf documents, and it’s easy to print just the few pages that you might be interested in.
The system also allows the public to enter comments, presumably to be read by commissioners or staff before meetings. In a nod to social media and other networks, you can share agenda items on Facebook, Twitter, and other systems. (Sample tweet: PURCHASE OF REAL PROPERTY LOCATED AT SECOND STREET AND ST. FRANCIS IN WICHITA, KANSAS. Presented by: Ron Holt, bff. http://t.co/gl22l3U)
Besides the public face of the system, it will also be used internally by county staff and commissioners to handle agenda paperwork more efficiently.
A fact sheet on the new agenda information system promotes its cost savings, estimated to be $15 per week in reduced usage of paper. The benefit to citizens, however, is access to agenda background information without making a trip to the courthouse. These trips were necessary, as my several recent requests to have background information emailed to me were always declined.
While this system may save $15 per week in paper, it was undoubtedly an expensive system to purchase and implement. According to a county budget document, the five-year cost of this project is $142,594. That doesn’t include internal resources devoted to this project and its ongoing support.
Its goals are more ambitions than what was required to provide citizens with the agenda background information, which was the one area where Sedgwick County was deficient. Many governments, such as the city of Wichita, have made this information available by simply posting the entire agenda report. That’s a simple solution that has worked, although not with all the functionality that the new Sedgwick county system provides.