Town of Cary Website clip as of June 9, 2013

Electronic Participation in Government Meetings

Cary, NC – The Town of Cary now allows electronic participation in 2 of their 6 Boards and Commissions. At their April 18, 2013 meeting, the Cary Town Council approved a modification of the staff recommendation for electronic participation in meetings (Staff report TC13-07). In our opinion this modification to the policy unnecessarily creates a burden on town staff without offering the potential benefits to the board and commission members. Regardless of that, citizens with distance, time and/or disability issues now have the ability to participate in the development of  policy in the Town of Cary.

I participated electronically in the June 3, 2013 meeting of the Information Services Advisory Board (ISAB). My comments to Sue Rowland, the Cary Town Clerk, are as follows:

Once the meeting started, I was able to hear everything that was discussed in the meeting and was able to discern the different speakers after a few times of them giving their names. It was great to be able to hear the give and take in the meeting. Much better than just reading the minutes later on. The ISAB members are truly passionate about their responsibility.

What was really great was that 5 people had registered to participate electronically and 2 of us spoke during the public input part of the meeting. This input would have been lost if not for the new policy, so kudos to Cary.

The issue of electronic meetings is also being discussed in the NC State government. Thom Tillis, Speaker of the NC House, can be heard discussing electronic meetings in the May 14, 2013 edition of Carolina Newsmakers (1:17 – 3:20 is the discussion about electronic meetings). This rule change would be groundbreaking and would allow citizen involvement while reducing the burden on those who serve us in public office. I am not sure of the current status of electronic meetings in NC State government, but I have heard from at least one house member that the effort may be stalled because this is a slippery slope towards electronic voting in NC elections. I hope this is not the case.

In Cary, your next opportunities to participate electronically in meetings are:

Remember that you need to follow the Town Policy with regards to attending the meetings on an electronic basis.

Get involved and let us know what you think about Electronic Access for Government Meetings. Will this help to bring more transparency in your government?

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Open Government is Hard To Do

Cary, NC – On April 18, 2013, the Town of Cary Town Council discussed the “Use of Technology to Enhance Town of Cary Public Meetings” covered by Staff Report TC13-07.  The staff report was a follow up to the findings of the Town’s Technology Task Force (TTF) and a request from the Town’s Information Services Advisory Board (ISAB).  The Town Staff did a great job of distilling the findings and recommendations of the TTF in putting the report together and offering a groundbreaking recommendation that would have resulted in a very open process for Boards and Commissions.

It was not an easy discussion and the Council struggled with this topic for almost 40 minutes of  a Council meeting.  You can see the discussion on the Town of Cary YouTube channel:

The private sector has embraced electronic meetings as a way to increase productivity and enable attendance for a geographically dispersed workforce at a low cost. Telephone conference calls have been around for years, and newer technologies like WebEx, GoTo Meeting, Google Hangouts and many others have revolutionized meetings with video, whiteboard sharing, chat functionality, etc. that have dramatically increased the effectiveness of electronic meetings.

The Council discussions focused more on distractions from rude attendees and the perceived need to have everyone physically present rather than the empowerment and productivity that Technology tools can bring to meetings. The Council did decide to allow Board and Commission meetings to be opened for electronic attendance by citizens which is a strong message that the Town is moving towards Open Government. The Board and Commission members however were restricted in their ability to participate via electronic meetings.

In one year the Town will review their decision, so we hope that the Cary Town Council will then adopt their staff recommendation of a truly open and empowering process.