2015-06-04 / Opinion

Moving Council Meetings Online Would Be Win-Win

To the Editor:

I’ve been thinking a lot about a dilemma that councilors have that clearly pains them.

That of not being able to discuss significant matters more efficiently and substantively with their colleagues. If they are found chatting with more than one other councilor in the parking lot, they are accused of collusion.

Clearly inefficient, and frankly ineffectual. Unless very dedicated, most will revert to just posturing and letting the people figure it out. Well, guess what? We’re the people and we've figured it out.

How about an open online City Council forum on the city website?

They could follow the same rules as the current council meetings (you can listen but you can’t talk), but the council could deliberate the more substantive parts of the issues, in full view of the public, in a more careful and deliberate fashion, not in a hurried slapdash reactionary manner to get past an already too-long session after 20:30 and an hour of liquor license approvals and commendations for the Rabbit Society of Newport.

They could do so in the middle of the day over several days and set a deadline to vote on approval of each measure.

Indeed, they could partition the forum site into “License Approvals,” “Boy Scout Recognitions,” “Rabbit Society Commendations,” “Strategic Planning,” etc., with a different forum for each category.

And add "Pontifications." That would be the place for all the three minute speeches.

They could partition the actual meetings into two meetings, the first for routine stuff (licenses, commendations) and the second for substantive matters.

Indeed, the actual meetings might consist simply of:

"URL X, pre-approved.

"URL Y, pre-approved.

"URL Z, pre-approved.

"All in favor? bang.

"All opposed? bang.

"Meeting adjourned."

Woohoo! A 15-minute City Council meeting. Over and done. And totally on the record.

Indeed, you could eventually even have “virtual City Council meetings” so people could stay home on Wednesday nights.

All the rules of due process would still apply. No shouting, no name calling, no ad hominems, just facts and logic.

But also no hurtling. They could think about and speak about it over time – several days – and respond responsibly. Oh: and people could upload evidential and expository documents to be considered by all, including the public.

But in any case, stop wasting everybody’s time by forcing them to sit interminably through the stuff about which they really don’t care just to wait (too late) for issues about which they really do care. Or at least reverse the order. Put the important stuff first, while people are fresh, and the routine stuff last, when they really don't care.

With such a medium, surely no one could then accuse councilors of backroom politics and collusion, but they would be able collectively to substantively discuss the alternatives in a deliberate and responsible manner based on facts and evidence. Everybody would win.

C. Andrews Lavarre

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