Alex Gronke thinks that the Mayor and City Council should post their calendars online for public viewing. I’d settle for being able to find out what they’re considering on Tuesday.
Legistar was down all afternoon yesterday, and is still down. I cannot view on-line next week’s Council agenda and even with direct links I cannot access any files from clerkwebsvr1. This happens more often than you would think, though I can’t remember the last time it went on for more than a day. Oakland’s Sunshine Ordinance (PDF!) requires that agendas (though not related legislative files) be available on-line, although there is an exemption for software or hardware failure.
The City Council, Redevelopment Agency, Board of Port Commissioners, Public Ethics Commission, and any of their standing committees shall provide notice before any regular meeting byposting a copy of the agenda on-line at the local body’s website no later than ten (10) days before the date of the meeting. Notwithstanding Section 2.20.080(D), the failure to timely post a copy of the agenda online because of software or hardware failure, as defined in Section 2.20.030, shall not constitute a defect in the notice for a regular meeting, if the local body complies with all other posting and noticing requirements.
So as long as agendas are posted on that silly bulletin board outside City Hall, the Council has fulfilled their public notice requirements.
I am unable to access and read any legislative files for what the Council will be discussing at their meeting on Tuesday, including the enforcement report for the smoking ban. (My understanding of the report is that, in contrast to previous assertions by proponents of the smoking ban, Oakland police officers are currently being used to respond to smoking complaints and would continue to be used for this purpose should the new legislation pass.) I’d like to read it. I could go to City Hall and read it there, but should Oaklanders accept that as constituting meaningful public access? Is it okay for our government to say that information about what they are doing is only available to you if you don’t work a 9 to 5 job and have the luxury of being able to visit City Hall during weekday daytime hours?
Before the internet, these rules made sense. They were the best we could do. In 1997, when we adopted the Sunshine ordinance, the internet was still not the way most people accessed information. Now things have changed. A survey (PDF!) by the PEW Internet and American Life Project found that in August 2006, 53% of respondents reported they had used the internet to find news or information about politics, up from 35% in March 2000. Another report from PEW shows that internet penetration among adult Americans has reached 73%.
There is a larger problem here than just one or two days (so far) without agendas and legislative files available online. The City’s website is hopelessly outdated, and it is not uncommon to find departmental webpages that haven’t been updated in five years. Last week, I was able to read Public Ethics Commission’s agenda online, but unable to access any of the attached reports. Try going to the Planning Commission’s page and looking for minutes from the recent Zoning Update Committee meetings. Our government’s neglectful approach to on-line information suggests that they care little about meaningful public access. Server problems that go on for days are not tolerated in the private sector. They certainly should not be tolerated when it comes to giving residents access to government information. Since Oakland City Hall cannot be relied on to provide this information in a reliable fashion without being obligated to do so, perhaps it is time for citizens to demand updates to the Sunshine Ordinance that will force them to.
Update: Legistar is now finally back online. That does not excuse the outage, though.