Community Oversight of the Planning Board

My previous posts tracking requests for information, feedback and general commentary to our Town staff and elected folks seem to be fairly popular.

I’m going to continue to post correspondence which might be of public interest.

The Town’s Technology Board (now defunct) was the first advisory board I regularly interacted with. The first meeting I attended was about six years ago (I was a lowly citizen then, not a member). I presented the group what I called a “technology manifesto” of proposed technology enhancements for the Town.

The “manifesto” outlined five major areas for improvement including cost saving initiatives, use of open source software, adoption of open standards, broadening community outreach via the Internet, tracking both the planning process and other relevant Town business processes, publishing Council and Town Manager emails, what is now called social networking sites for direct interaction between citizens and Town, WIFI to bridge the digital divide, public fiber infrastructure as an economic development differentiator, website accessibility, etc.

It was quite a list. The Technology Board seemed a bit stunned (or maybe bored) but, even so, they did me the courtesy of listening as I outlined my plan of action.

I continued working on those items when I became an official member of that board. Some of the initiatives have moved forward. Others languish. None have been completed.

One issue I brought forward was on-line video of Council and other important advisory board proceedings. Because of the sketchy minutes many advisory groups kept, I also wanted audio of all board proceedings.

When the Town lagged in their effort to put Council meetings on-line, I took it upon myself to upload (here) as many as possible. Finally the Town contracted with Granicus (which uses Microsoft’s proprietary technology) to do the same.

Now we have video (here) which is easily accessible for those folks running Winblows. Mac and Linux users are kind of cut out (see the problem with not using open standards?).

Anyway, long windup to another in a long line of re-requests. In this case, online video documenting the proceedings of our Planning Board (pretty common elsewhere, important when minutes lag Council approvals or don’t adequately capture debate).

Last week the cable-customer supported People’s Channel presented their annual report. As part of that report, they expressed an interest in doing more coverage of governmental events.

I sent this to the PC’s Director Chad Johnston Nov. 11th:

Hey Chad,

I’d like to follow up on Kevin’s comments last night.

I’m not sure if you are aware of my several year effort to get Council to broadcast advisory meetings, but I believe this is what Kevin was referring to.

In terms of priority, I have asked that the Planning Board be the first in line. As you know, the Planning Board’s decisions have significant impact on the community. Many other communities already broadcast their deliberations.

Do you think TPC could assist the Town in that effort?


Here’s what I asked Mayor Foy the same day:


Since you brought the issue up last night. As you know, I’ve been calling for more extensive coverage of advisory board proceedings for years. Priority one, I believe, is broadcasting and posting video of all the Planning Board sessions. This is quite common elsewhere. Planning Board’s decisions have significant impact on the community. Beyond their process, which we could do a much better job explaining, zoning issues as a whole seem somewhat opaque to the wider community.

Televising their proceedings would go a long way towards involving our community at a point where their concerns can have the most impact.

I hope you will put this on a fast-track with Chad and company.

Thank you

To date I’ve had no response from either Chad or Kevin. I’ll update folks should I hear from them on what I think would be an excellent improvement to our governance process.


2 responses to “Community Oversight of the Planning Board”

  1. jsager Avatar

    As a current member of the Planning Board I wholeheartedly agree. I would love to find better ways to engage the citizens in the process and making the meetings available more widely would certainly help. – (John Ager)

  2. Administrator Avatar

    Chad has responded positively. “We would be happy to assist the town in covering meetings. I am happy to provide quotes for service…”

    So, looks like if we’re serious we’ll have to flash some cash…

    The Planning Board wields great influence. Their decisions not only lead to policy changes altering our physical landscape but have direct impact on the Town’s economic and cultural future.

    Advisory board minutes (when they are kept, when they are current) often document a few points of contention, some clarifications and the end-product. What is “important” isn’t necessarily captured. Nuance is the first casualty.

    There is ZERO excuse for not providing audio recordings of every advisory board meeting. Video documentation, preferably on-line, for the Planning Board – especially considering the volume of visual evidence presented – is necessary.

    Besides providing background on decisions affecting our citizens – a fundamental requirement for anyone espousing open governance principles – recording meetings might actually improve the process.

    Some of CitizenWill’s readers know about the internal struggles the Tech Board had. I think if we had been recording the meetings, it might have tempered some of the ill feelings and possibly improved the brevity of folks (like myself) that made some meetings drag on.

Leave a Reply