Packing up the pieces
The Long Beach, Calif., City Clerk’s Office has begun using new software to help assemble agendas and reports for the weekly city council meetings. The software has eliminated piles of paper from the office and is helping the clerk publicize council proceedings more quickly.
For many years, the procedure for assembling agendas and minutes for Long Beach City Council meetings has been time consuming for city clerk employees. In fact, one assistant city clerk’s entire job was managing agenda coordination and production. The process involved receiving and routing council letters, proclamations, ordinances and resolutions; “cutting and pasting” subject headings and suggested actions into agenda templates; proofreading; and reproducing and distributing 54 hard-copy agenda packets.
For two days each week, eight other people were dedicated to preparing documents for council meetings. After each meeting, the City Clerk’s Office prepared summary minutes, including meeting discussion, motions and votes. On average, it took approximately 60 hours to prepare each week’s set of minutes and required some staff members to proofread documents, another to manually mark up the agenda and another to post information to the Web site, scanning each document to convert it for online viewing. Minutes were usually not available publicly for two weeks after a meeting. “Our agenda process was manual, paper-driven and labor intensive,” says Larry Herrera, city clerk. “And, the agenda format relied on human experience, passed on by word of mouth.”
The city began looking for a more efficient way to accomplish those tasks. The old ways of paper shuffling, signing, tracking and hand-carrying council letters, contracts, ordinances and resolutions were being strained by demands for immediate and responsive communications. After evaluating several systems, in March 2004 Long Beach contracted to install Legistar, an agenda legislative workflow and management system from Chicago-based Daystar Computer Systems. The city rolled out the $400,000 system in March 2005.
From the moment legislation is drafted until its final disposition, the software tracks every action and dates it. City clerk employees only enter information in the system once, and then they can automatically generate a variety of agendas, minutes and reports. They also can create notices, certified copies and other legislative reports from stored information, while eliminating redundant data entry or the need to copy and paste information from one file to another.
Once agendas, minutes and voting records are available, employees can post them to the Web immediately following a council meeting. They also can compile and format the meeting minutes into a portable document format (pdf) file and post it to the Web.
City clerk employees no longer run from office to office getting signatures on documents and finding paper files, because all of that is accessible on their desktop computers. Now, only three staff members are needed to prepare documents for the council. “We are a society that loves paper, and to go from a paper-centric to an automated, information-centric process, though a gradual one, is a huge cultural and conceptual shift in our organization, or any organization going through it,” Herrera says. “Since we’ve been using [the new system], users like that everything is at their finger tips.”