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Denton to make more documents accessible

Profile image for By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe / Staff Writer
By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe / Staff Writer

New online capabilities for key Denton City Council documents, along with those of its boards and commissions, should help interested residents, as well as city leaders, keep better track of the city’s business.

Earlier this month, the council agreed to a staff recommendation to add another component to the computer software the city already uses to help prepare for and archive both City Council and Planning and Zoning Commission meetings.

The new component, which will cost $31,500 to launch, brings additional capabilities to manage the many documents that accompany meeting agendas — in particular, making all the agenda documents machine-readable and, therefore, searchable.

Currently, while all the agenda documents are compiled, scanned and uploaded to the city’s website, some of them, such as maps or other supporting documents that are created by other groups, are not searchable, according to City Secretary Jennifer Walters. With the new “legislative management” component of the software, produced by San Francisco-based Granicus, users will be able to create different reports from fully searchable documents.

For example, if an issue has gone back and forth between a board, commission and City Council, its history can be called up in a report, according to Betty Williams, the city’s director of administrative services.

Residents will also be able to research the voting records of individual council members.

In addition, city staff will begin using the software to preparing agendas and minutes for the city’s many boards and commissions, similar to the packets currently prepared for the City Council and the Planning and Zoning Commission, and again, with the new search-and-report capabilities.

Little, if any, board and commission meeting information is currently on the city’s website. State law requires agendas for governing bodies and economic development corporations of cities with a population of 48,000 be posted online, but makes no such requirement of a city’s boards and commissions.

Some board and commission members have said that, without posting agendas and minutes online, they have limited ability to research the evolution of an issue, particularly if it involves discussion and action by a board or commission other than on the one they serve.

Williams expects it will take at least 14 weeks to roll out all the new capabilities, which includes some time for staff training. Williams also expects that the city staff will likely start by adding capabilities to City Council and Planning and Zoning documents first.

“It might look a little different once we’ve converted it all to machine-readable copies,” Williams said.

Individual council, board and commission members will be able to annotate documents, too, something they currently aren’t able to do electronically.

Eventually, all the boards and commissions will be included, although the city doesn’t plan to create video archives of those meetings because of the cost, Walters said.

Over the next three years, the new capabilities make up $67,500 of the city’s $171,081 contract with Granicus, according to city documents. Half of that, or $31,500, is the startup cost for the new capabilities, with another $14,400 annually to subscribe to the company’s service, which includes document hosting.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.