In honor of Sunshine Week, which seeks to increase government transparency, Imperial Beach Patch again looked into the city of Imperial Beach's online presence.
For Sunshine Week last year, IB Patch performed a . It was found to be outdated and in some areas inadequate.
Improvements have been made: a new site design was launched, a calendar is now available and city news updates are sent out every week. also improves communication, but video of meetings is still unavailable online.
In this respect, IB remains alone among cities nearby, as every other city near Imperial Beach, from San Diego to Chula Vista to Tijuana, makes video of their meetings available for residents online.
Two years ago, the city installed a camera and began to have Cox Communications broadcast its City Council meetings to their customers. Meetings can now be seen live on Channel 24 the day of a meeting, as well as Thursday at 5 p.m. after the meeting and Sunday at 9 a.m.
Because it is a private company, Cox Communications said it will not release data about the number of its customers have in Imperial Beach.
The trend nationwide is that cabe subscription rates have dropped over the past years, and could decline 10 percent by 2015.
Full Transparency Said to Cost too Much
Last spring, Interim Assistant City Manager Doug Clark was told to revisit the idea of videos being available on the city's website.
The effort was never officially discarded, but the city is no longer exploring the idea.
Clark said he found the cost of providing video online too high, though the city has not released a cost assessment.
"One company we were looking at was fairly expensive, I mean in terms of what IB can afford," Clark said. "We looked at YouTube, but it's very complicated because of the limits of how long you can have a segment up and it takes a long time for them to waive that."
The amount of time it takes for staff to upload videos was also considered an issue.
With a budget deficit near $1 million, staff is strapped for time. Last month Clark left the assistant city Mmnager position to take on another role with the city reviewing health benefits. Both positions were on a contractual basis.
"There's less staff now then there used to be and part of the question was how much time do you want to take doing something like that," he said. Part of the reason he is only working as a consultant now is because of a lack of money and the dissolution of redevelopment agencies.
"I can tell you this if it costs anything at this point in time, it's going to be termed too expensive," said Community Development Department Director Greg Wade.
Wade said he is not continuing the analysis Clark started a year ago, and it was never discussed with Clark in debriefing sessions the two had before he took over as Assistant City Manager last month.
While cost control and overworked staff are important, but making public discourse between city staff, elected officials and the public voicing their opinion is paramount above just about any other service a city provides.
Taxpayers deserve it, and people who are unable to attend meetings, are not Cox customers or prefer to watch online deserve another choice.
There are options available to stream video in a way that takes little time or money.
I know churches that broadcast their sermons live on the web through sites like UStream.com free of charge. You can also embed the video on any website.
The Big Picture
City workshop meetings are held every few months to discuss the city's big picture. No actions are taken because they aren't official City Council meetings, but the city's long-term goals and vision are debated by Councilmembers and staff.
None of these meetings are televised or recorded.
At each of these meetings in the past year, fewer than 10 people attend, a number that should alarm the city and its residents.
Public notice of these meetings is often late or last minute.
This doesn't directly deny access, but limits the amount of people who may attend these important meetings to listen or voice their opinion.
Out of four workshops held this year and two so far this year, only one was listed on the city's calendar. For the last two meetings, the agenda wasn't released until a day before the meeting.
Notice of Wednesday's meeting was put out Tuesday afternoon, even though the meeting was proposed last month. On the agenda:
- An update on city finances and several possible tax increases
- Discuss long-term vision, how to stimulate local economy and how to provide for public improvements post redevelopment agency
The Institute for Local Government, whose "Understanding the Basics of County and City Revenues" guide is attached to the agenda of Wednesday's meeting, endorse publishing video online.
Released in 2005, a best practices pamphlet from the ILG calls publishing audio or video of meetings online as a great way to improve involvement in public hearings in a section titled "Developing Public Trust in the Decision-Making Process."
"This can greatly expand the number of people informed about the issue, enhance government transparency, and help legitimize decisions," the pamphlet said.
Early notice of meetings to take place is also listed as a best practice to maximize attendance.