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New software aids transparency

We commend Denton City Council members for agreeing to new online capabilities that will make it easier to keep track of city business.

Improved access to key council documents, along with those of its boards and commissions, should benefit interested residents, as well as city leaders.

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.

That sounds great to us. In our view, making it easier to access such documents will help bring city proceedings into sharper focus, which is a positive for all concerned.

Residents will be able to research the voting records of individual council members. City staff will begin using the software to prepare 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.

How many times have we heard residents complain that this type of information is not available to them?

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 or more 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. This new capability should solve that problem.

Officials expect that it will take at least 14 weeks to roll out all the new capabilities, which includes some time for staff training. 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.

In many cases, elected officials resist attempts to improve access to documents or any other means of shedding light on city business, and this creates suspicion and a sense of distrust among taxpayers.

By taking this step, we believe Denton City Council members could begin to repair tears that have developed in their relationship with some constituents. It’s a good place to start in building more solid, honest communication with the public.