Taking care of business
When supervisors on the Sacramento County, Calif., board found their staff members using hand trucks to carry agendas and documents to meetings, they knew something needed to change. So, late last year, the board began using Web-based software to create, approve and organize paperwork for meetings. Board members now can view agendas and other materials on their laptops, and after meetings, they can refer to video of the proceedings linked to information on the county Web site.
The Sacramento County board meets at least six times monthly to adopt ordinances, levy taxes, appropriate funds and zone property. County departments submit items for consideration to the board clerk, who organizes the meetings. Along with creating and approving agendas, the clerk records minutes, tallies votes and posts agendas with attachments and minutes to the Web.
Managing the requests and compiling documents by hand was difficult. Depending on the meetings’ content, agendas and other materials could measure more than one foot high for each board member. “Our process sometimes created difficulties for tracking agenda items as they made their way through more than eight different approval processes utilized by various departments,” says Anthony Wong, information technology analyst for the county. “Because we were relying on manual processes, our staff was concerned agenda items could be left off due to late submittal or included without going through the proper approvals first.”
Along with reducing the paper volume at their meetings, supervisors wanted to begin streaming and archiving online video so county officials, residents and others could view the board meetings at any time. The county purchased Web-based agenda management software from Salt Lake City-based SIRE Technologies and integrated it with streaming video and voting components from San Francisco-based Granicus in August 2005.
Now, nearly every step of documenting board activities has been automated — from creating agenda templates and routing documents for approval to publishing minutes online. County departments use the program to propose items for consideration and submit materials. Then, the requests are edited and routed to managers for authorization and inclusion on the agenda. An electronic document management system archives all of the information. The clerk uses a minutes automation program to record 80 to 90 percent of the minutes — including motions, voting records, actions and tabled items — before the meeting is over, allowing the clerk to post them online within a few hours.
Sacramento County’s board meetings are televised live on a local cable channel with replays later in the week, and residents can check out VHS copies from any county library seven to 10 days after the meetings. To supplement that video, the county broadcasts the meetings live on its Web site. It also indexes video archives of the meetings and links them to documents and other supporting information that correspond to each agenda item.
Users can search the archive to watch portions of the meetings and read the information the board members used to make their decisions. “The agenda with all the supporting documents are displayed side-by-side with video of the meetings,” Wong says. “We are able to incorporate minute annotations, vote counts and other information directly into Web-casts. As a result, our workflow [is] much more efficient and our citizens are better served.”