Monday, July 7, 2008

Recruiting citizen reporters

One of the ways this blog can be most effective is if we can get citizen/reporters to attend each of the important municipal meetings which happen every month, and report back to us, through the blog, what happened.

If your civic duty gnawing at your conscience, this is a great way to learn about city government, and help your neighbors and fellow Middletown residents.

The only way to ensure that government is doing what it's supposed to do, is to have eyes and ears trained on it at all times. Don't take this as a general dismissal of the good work done by most of our public servants, but you can take it as a dose of healthy skepticism by someone who has seen isolated public servants do the worse when they think no one is watching.

It's actually a relatively easy assignment, although sometimes these meetings are godawful boring, particularly when commission members feel they need to poster with obtuse and repetitive speeches just because they enjoy the sounds of their own voices.

If you volunteered, you would have to commit to a couple of hours a month (or if you teamed with someone else, a couple hours every other month). You would attend the meeting, and take notes about the decisions that are made, and if you are ambitious, you might even report on what is said by the general public and commission members on certain topics. Then you would write a few paragraphs (preferably the same evening, but at least by the next day), that would give us the lowdown on the meeting. And if you have a digital camera, even the most pedestrian of meeting photos is helpful.

One of the great things about attending the same meeting every month is that you begin to know the commission members, who is active, who not, and to understand the issues that come before that commission. And we as blog readers get the advantage of that consistent knowledge.

This week there are a few meetings of note (and several others not noted here):

Common Council Meeting, 7 pm, Monday July 7, Council Chambers (this one is also televised on the Comcast Educational Access Channel) Of note tonight will be the discussion of whether to provide a loan for an exploratory committee to ornamentally light the Arrigoni Bridge (for which, apparently, there are federal funds available). The rest of the agenda is available here.

Board of Education, 7 pm, Tuesday July 8, Board of Ed Building
Meeting agenda to be posted here.

Wednesday July 9 is busy with these meetings listed:
Preservation and Design Review, 5:30 pm, Room 208, City Hall
Public Works, 5:00 pm, Public Works office
Resource Recycling, 7 pm, Russell Library
Planning and Zoning, 7 pm, Council Chambers (meeting agenda to be posted here)

Conservation Commission, Thursday July 10, Room 208, City Hall (agenda here)

Hope you take this invitation to participate seriously. We could use your help. If you're interested, email me

Before I end this blog, allow me to step on my soap box for a moment.

The effort to inform Middletown residents of meetings, agendas and meeting minutes is shameful in this day and age. Just to assemble the above list, I had to click on several websites (departments are allowed to have their own sites), each of which uses a different format for listing the information. There is no consistency, no order, and in the case of meeting minutes, no sense of urgency.

It is entirely possible to remedy the situation, and I'd suggest the following:

- Redesign the website so the monthly meeting calendar is featured prominently on the home page.
- Design the meeting calendar so access to meeting agendas and minutes are available in a single mouse click
- Make all town websites adhere to a consistent format
- Make all public documents appropriate to the meeting and resolutions up for discussion (letters, charts, statutes, graphs,) available as PDF documents on line
- Have meeting minutes available on line prior to the following meeting
- Televise all public meeting
- Archive all video/audio recordings of meetings so they are available online immediately following the meeting

Ed McKeon is a writer and filmmaker who lives in the Village District.

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