Enhanced Public Notice
Dale Williams - "It is good
Columbia County, FL (posted May 17, 2010 08:45 am)
By Stew Lilker
Columbia County, County Manager, Dale Williams, at work in front of the County Commission.
In November of 2006, your reporter presented the County Charter Review Committee (CRC) with an amendment to the County Charter called Enhanced Public Notice. The purpose of this amendment required the County Commission to post their agendas and associated backup material on the county web site. Of the 15 members on the CRC, only Koby Adams, presently a member of the LSHA, voted against presenting the amendment to the people.
That November, the voters approved the amendment with an 82% majority.
After a slow start, the county is up to speed and the Observer spoke with County Manager Dale Williams for his thoughts on this important piece of citizen approved legislation.
Observer: It has been a few years since the charter amendment was approved. Do you think that it has improved government?
CM Williams: Technology is changing the world that we live in. I have noticed that using technology to notify the public was initially used by only by a few. That is no longer the case. Everybody is using it. I know people in their seventies that use email as their primary means of correspondence, whereas just a few years ago you never saw anybody over thirty five use it. The change is here to stay and using the internet is just an easier way to inform the public and sometimes even the commissioners about what we are doing.
Observer: So this makes it easy for you to reach the most people for the least cost?
CM Williams: Absolutely, and we have things coming. One is we are getting ready to put all contracts with a value in excess of $10,000 on the web site. The Attorney General recommended it a couple of years ago.
Observer: Didn't I send that press release to you?
CM Williams: You did and we actually started working on that then. We are close to posting the information on the County website.
Observer: Do you think that the staff benefits from having all the stuff posted online?
CM Williams: Absolutely. Now instead of having to use interoffice mail and those things – they just look at their monitor. The department heads now obtain their information the same way that the public does. If a department head wants to see what is on an agenda, they go to the county website just like a citizen could and they can print off just that portion they need.
Observer: Do you feel that makes your job easier?
CM Williams: It does. We have a small administrative staff and they would be taxed even more if it wasn't for the technology.
Observer: This got off to a slow start, didn't it?
CM Williams: Yes, but now we are seeing the benefits every day. We acknowledge there was a learning curve for us.
Observer: The amendment doesn't include times that you are required to post the information on the web site. You are now posting the material on Thursday afternoon or Friday morning. The meetings are on the following Thursday. Can you tell me something about that?
CM Williams: We want to have the information available as far in advance of the meeting as possible. The Thursday -- Friday deadline was self imposed and we now feel if we don't do that we are imposing on the public.
Observer: Things certainly seem to be getting timelier, but sometimes the information still seems to be posted at the very last minute or not at all. Can you tell me about that?
CM Williams: Sometimes the County Commission gets the information weeks or even months in advance and the item is scheduled for a future meeting. Then something happens and we have to do it right away. That's what happened recently with the 911 equipment purchase. The Sheriff told me he was worried about the approaching thunderstorm season. It made sense to move the item ahead on the schedule and that is what we did.
Observer: What you call the "second page" is used for last minute items. Sometimes the information isn't available until sometime in the morning of the day of the Board meeting. Can you tell me something about that?
CM Williams: Our goal is to have the second page up Wednesday morning at ten o'clock.
Observer: Ok – I can write that?
CM Williams: Well, that's the goal. Does it always make it? No it doesn't, but we are getting closer and the staff is really working hard to see that we meet the Wednesday morning deadline. The real news is that we would like to do away with the second page. We would really like to get to the point where we publish the agenda a week prior to the meeting – but we haven't quite got there yet. We are moving that way.
Observer: Do you think that's possible?
CM Williams: I am not sure, but it is a worthwhile goal. For now we are working to move the posting deadline for the second page to the end of business on Tuesday afternoon. I think as we move our goal back, the second page will be getting shorter and shorter.
Observer: What about the stuff that never even makes it to the agenda -- the items that mysteriously show up? The County Commission doesn't add them to the agenda. These kinds of fast deals make it look like something wrong could be going on.
CM Williams: Within the next couple of meetings you will see the agenda change. The Board will be approving the agenda and then they will be approving the additions. I recently sent a memo explaining that.
Observer: Just about all the things we discussed are a result of the Enhanced Public Notice Amendment to the County Charter. Now that you have the luxury of hindsight, do you think that it has made for more effective and responsive government?
CM Williams: Yes. It is just good government and it has been a good thing for everyone. It is important that the people have the information as timely as possible and now I'm trying to get my dad to get a computer.
Observer: Good luck with that. It was nice speaking with you. Thank you.
CM Williams: Thank you.