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Notice of Change of Date of a Monthly Public Meeting

April 11, 2014 Events/Meetings, Featured, Parking, Politics/Policy 19 Comments
Entrance to the Treasurer's office in city hall, though the main office is a block away,
Entrance to the Treasurer’s office in city hall, though the main office is a block away,

Yesterday I went to city hall to attend the monthly Parking Commission meeting, held every 2nd Thursday, but was told it took place the day before. Really?  I’d checked the Treasurer’s Twitter account before leaving home, no mention at all. I tweeted about the change from the hallway, mentioning @stltreasurer.  The response was “@urbanreviewstl It was on our website: https://www.stlouis-mo.gov/events/eventdetails.cfm?Event_ID=8145”   I guess I should’ve checked the website every day since April 1st on the off chance the meeting date will be moved a day early? If only there was a way for me to subscribe to get notices of interest, like RSS.

The city only offers four (4) RSS feeds on its subscriptions page:

RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds allow you to get the latest news from your favorite sources, all in one place. The City of St. Louis offers the following feeds:

City of St. Louis – All News [feeds.feedburner.com]

Latest news and press releases posted by the City of St. Louis.

City of St. Louis – Board Bills [feeds.feedburner.com]

City of St. Louis – Board Bills

City of St. Louis – Calendar [feeds.feedburner.com]

Upcoming events and meetings in the City of St. Louis

City of St. Louis – Jobs [feeds.feedburner.com]

Latest City of St. Louis job postings.

RSS allows subscribers to be notified of new content. But with only four feeds another way is needed to let people know, enter Twitter & Facebook. The subscription page  the Twitter profiles and Facebook pages of numerous city departments/officials, including the Treasurer’s office, below the four RSS feeds are. No RSS, follow on Twitter &/or Facebook. The Treasurer’s twitter account currently has 782 followers, the Facebook page has 125 likes. The Facebook page is updated via Twitter.

The city relies on Twitter & Facebook instead of having hundreds of RSS feed, but the departments need to use these tools for them to effectively keep the public informed. It’s one thing to not tweet about a meeting being held a day later than usual, but it’s very important when moving up the meeting a day. Not using social media in this instance makes me suspicious of the goings on. The agenda listed only two items, but potentially controversial ones:

  • ICM/Summer Rocks Parking Agreement
  • Review and Approval of FY 2015 Budget

I usually attend meetings, tweeting discussions during. It appears the meeting was moved up a day so I wouldn’t be present. There may well be another reason for the change, but the appearance remains the same in my eyes.  Since the prepared minutes aren’t shared online I’ll only know what took place if I make it to the next meeting on May 8th when I can get a copy. I’ll have to make a note to start checking the website starting on May 1st in case it’s decided to move the date again.  So much for transparency….

— Steve Patterson


Currently there are "19 comments" on this Article:

  1. JZ71 says:

    Steve – while I can understand your frustration, this has to be one of your more narcissistic posts. Meetings get changed all the time, usually for the convenience of one or more of the official members, NOT to avoid public scrutiny! You stated that the meeting was posted on the city’s website, as well as (most likely) physically posted wherever printed meeting notices are always posted. And while I understand your fascination with the wonders of social media, most government bodies are followers, not leaders, when it comes to embracing new technology. Sure, the city could, and maybe even should, tweet or RSS every damn thing that’s happening in the city, but that ain’t gonna happen. Until you manage to get elected and to enlighten the staff that works for our elected officials, you probably need to resign yourself to the fact that this is just today’s reality of government bureaucracy.

    • Regular public meetings are rarely moved, if so they’re usually delayed, not moved up. Missouri has open meeting laws for a reason, to cut down on elected officials and bureaucrats from infringing upon the right to stay informed.

      The city rwcovnizes Twitter & Facebook as effective means of communications, the Treasurer’s office uses these daily, except when moving a public meeting up a day. We don’t know when the notice went online because the time & date isn’t shown. Was it at least 24 hours prior to the day they ended up meeting? What does the state law say about a public body (Parking Commossion) changing their regular posted meeting time? Does the chair have the authority to make the change?

      You might think I’m just being narcissistic, but as a regular observer I see potential red flags.

      • JZ71 says:

        I don’t disagree with the “right to stay informed”, but I seriously doubt that your potential or actual presence or absence at the meeting had anything, at all, to do with it being rescheduled. One, anything approved at the meeting will eventually become public knowledge, as it’s implemented. Two, much of what is decided or approved at any formal meeting has already been decided before the meeting even convenes. Those decisions happen in subcommittees and from staff input – the elected / appointed “officials” usually only approve or deny, they rarely modify, especially “on the floor” in a formal meeting. Three, the two biggest reasons governmental meetings get rescheduled are to make sure there’s a quorum present or to meet some sort of deadline, usually for funding. And four, the presence of some blogger tweeting out real time updates is / should be of little concern for most elected officials. In my five years in elected office (preceded by more than a decade in appointed positions), my only concern was being misquoted by the press, not having my comments or actions accurately reported.

        • The Parking Commission has only 5 members, I’ve never heard them mention amy subcommittees. At this level there is discussion, through little debate that I’ve witnessed.

          Meeting to decide beforehand would be a huge violation of Missouri law!

          • JZ71 says:

            Not “meeting” beforehand, but arriving at a decision before the meeting starts. When I was on the transit board, before every regular meeting, we received a “board packet” that contained multiple items for our review, individually, before the meeting started. At the meeting, many mundane, non-controversial items were adopted without any discussion (the “consent agenda”). Any board member could call out any item for further discussion, but most non-controversial items ARE simply that, non-controversial. If you’re expecting to go to the Parking Commission and find the 5 members receiving information that they’d never seen before, either written or spoken, you’re living in a fantasy world – like any good lawyer will tell ya, don’t ask a question that you don’t already know the answer to it!

          • As a regular observer of the Parking Commission, that doesn’t appear to be the case. It just isn’t that big.

          • JZ71 says:

            And to take another tack, this is what the law requires – any other “notice” / means of informing the public is NOT required, and is done solely at the discretion of the agency or department. If you think that “government” needs to use more social media for official public notices, maybe your efforts should be directed toward the state legislature, not random city agencies:

            “610.020. 1. All public governmental bodies shall give notice of the time, date, and place of each meeting, and its tentative agenda, in a manner reasonably calculated to advise the public of the matters to be considered, and if the meeting will be conducted by telephone or other electronic means, the notice of the meeting shall identify the mode by which the meeting will be conducted and the designated location where the public may observe and attend the meeting. If a public body plans to meet by internet chat, internet message board, or other computer link, it shall post a notice of the meeting on its website in addition to its principal office and shall notify the public how to access that meeting. Reasonable notice shall include making available copies of the notice to any member of the public or representative of the news media who requests notice of meetings of a particular public governmental body concurrent with the notice being made available to the members of the particular governmental body and posting the notice on a bulletin board or other prominent place which is easily accessible to the public and clearly designated for that purpose at the principal office of the body holding the meeting, or if no such office exists, at the building in which the meeting is to be held.”

          • moe says:

            Steve is just upset that they didn’t call him personally to let him know of the change.

          • They use Twitter 2-4 times a day to promote events, respond to the public. They’ve used Twitter before to mention a change of meeting date (delay). Why not this time?

          • JZ71 says:

            Because they’re human beings? And just forgot to do it?!

          • If that was the case they should’ve replied to my tweet with something like “Was posted to website, forgot to tweet it. Will do so in the future.”

    • Greg says:

      Well said JZ!

    • Public bodies do sometimes screw up that may violate the law, see http://stlouis.cbslocal.com/2012/05/15/alorton-mayor-three-others-charged-with-open-meeting-violations/
      I don’t that this example is a violation of state law, but it’s not good for someone that ran on transparency as part of her campaign. Once candidates are elected they must be reminded of what they said prior to the election.

    • The legislature is considering a change to the law, reducing the penalties but lowering the bar to show a violation: http://www.semissourian.com/story/2061242.html

  2. gmichaud says:

    I have to agree with Steve on this one. We would be naive to think these government entities do not in fact manipulate meetings to avoid citizen scrutiny, we see it all the time. Let’s face it parking decisions can involve a great deal of money, making it all the more likely for the committee to try to sneak something through. You don’t think the Board of Alderman bringing up a controversial issue for a vote at the last minute to avoid public discussion is not a strategy they actively use? Same with various boards and committees who do everything in their power to avoid discussion if in is in their interest to do so.
    Nor do I think “meeting times” are changed all the time, in fact set meeting times allow both the public and board members to be present. And yes any changes should be posted well in advance and publically, the fact this change was under the radar is suspicious.
    And how hard is it to upload meeting meetings to the web, are government officials so incompetent they can’t manage that simple act, maybe we should send over a high school student over to give them a few lessons.
    I appreciate the fact Steve is attempting to look out for the interests of citizens, he is taking his time to monitor aspects of city government, and certainly it should not be too much to expect government to be transparent and keep information available to all interested parties, including meeting times, minutes of meeting, agendas and so on.

    • JZ71 says:

      I agree, completely, with your last paragraph. The point of discussion of this post, however, revolves around how notification is, is required to be, and how people, like Steve, would like to see, disseminated. State law requires one thing, post it on the bulletin board. Methods have evolved, and continue to evolve – posting, snail mail, email, faxing, texting, blogs, facebook, twitter, phone calls, RSS, pinterest, LinkedIn, smoke signals, jungle drums, bike messengers and on and on and on. We all have our preferred method of being contacted, and, most likely, it’s different than it was 5 years ago and different than what it was 10 or 15 years ago. In a “perfect” world, every arm of government would embrace each and every means. In the “real” world, government does what it’s REQUIRED to do, and anything else is done as a courtesy to their constituents – they don’t have the time nor the resources to be doing 20 or 30 different ways. And publicly blasting an entity for dropping the ball on what is essentially a courtesy, a positive thing, is no way to “make friends and influence enemies”. If someone decided to tweet me some important piece of information, I’d be pissed – I’m lucky to check my twitter feed once a week. If I want to stay informed, I find out how the entity does things their way – I don’t expect them to bend to my whims and wishes . . . .

      • Transparency, a word candidate Jones used often while seeking the office, requires thinking about how to communicate with the public. Since taking office they’ve used Twitter — nearly 700 tweets. Their Twitter feed posts to their Facebook page, reaching many people very quickly.

      • gmichaud says:

        Informing the public of meeting times is not a courtesy, it is a duty. These people work for us, or they are supposed to. Nor do I see what the big deal is informing the public, so there are 20 methods of communication, how long does it take to cover a majority of reporting methods? A teenager might take 20 minutes, even I, at 66 could cover most informational methods quickly, please, it should not be a big deal.
        Nor can we forget how corrupt the parking segment of city government was just recently, supposedly new leadership has fixed the problems, but maybe not.
        Mayor Slay should take leadership, the public should know what to expect in terms of being informed about hearings, meetings and so on. If the city government only is going to use a few methods of communication, it should be clearly stated and known to the general public who are interested in the workings of government.
        I am surprised there is so much support for the dysfunctional government way of doing things, it should be clear to anyone half way observant that the only people government is worried about informing are those lining their pockets, the citizens be damned.
        I really feel Steve is right to be concerned that the parking committee may have rescheduled the meeting to avoid his scrutiny, it’s not like we are dealing with honest government here, honest mistakes happen, but the fact the parking committee and much of the rest of city government is so unconcerned about public involvement that issues such as rescheduling methods do not follow an already established procedure points to the real question, just who does city government represent?


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