A Transparency Platform for Bloomington Mayoral Candidates – The B Square

The word “transparency” is used often by local authorities, not just here in Bloomington.

It’s a vague concept.

Just because local government news was not predicted by a reporter or the public does not necessarily mean failure on the part of the government.

Sometimes we could probably do a better job paying attention to information than the local government Is to make available.

But often, I think, the problem is not on our side.

What more could the Bloomington government do to make its operations more accessible and transparent to the public?

To answer that question, I draw on three years of covering local government in the Bloomington area for The B Square.

Given that Bloomington’s mayoral campaign season has already begun for 2023, my response comes in the form of a possible mayoral transparency platform.

All things being equal, if a mayoral candidate supports the platform below, I think readers should consider supporting that candidate.

PUBLIC RECORDS REQUESTS (APRA): CIVIL RECORDS/MEETING OFFICER

Responsibility. Responsibility for processing requests for records under the APRA (Public Records Access Act) will be assigned to a Records/Meetings Officer who is not part of the Legal Department organization. The Records/Meetings Manager may consult with the Legal Department, but will not follow their instructions.

Prime directive. One of the primary directives of the Records/Meetings Manager will be this: release all legally disclosable records, not just records that the city is required to release under state law. This means that the records/meetings manager will not use the so-called “deliberative records exemption” in the APRA, or other discretionary exemptions, to withhold information from the public.

Performance: punctuality. A performance measure of the Records/Meetings Officer will be to provide at least some information to an APRA requester within five days of receiving the request.

Performance: Dissemination of files. A performance measure of the Records/Meetings Officer will be to release all records released to an APRA requester to the general public – at the same time the records are released to the requester. The Archives/Meetings Manager will be supported in this by the IT department, which will create a repository of documents for the city’s website, possibly promoted as B Clear Docs, in addition to the existing B Clear Data. The document repository will include an easy way for the records/meetings manager and other city staff to upload documents, should they need to make them publicly available. The document repository will allow the public to subscribe to its content updates.

Performance: Public record of APRA requests. A performance measure of the Records/Meetings Manager will be to create and maintain a public database of APRA requests with their current status, date received, date closed, including links to the text of the request and the documents provided. The archives/meetings manager will be supported in this objective by the IT department.

Performance: Implementation of a web-based ARPA application procedure. A performance measure of the Records/Meetings Officer will be to retire the system of obsolete .pdf fillable forms for making APRA requests. In its place, the Archives/Meetings Manager will develop a web form-based interface for submitting an APRA request, which will automatically populate the public database of APRA requests.

Performance: Reduced need for registration requests. A Records/Meetings Officer performance measure will be to reduce the need for future records requests. The Records/Meetings Manager will assess each request made under the APRA to determine whether similar types of information can be routinely released to the public, proactively posting it to B Clear Docs.

Performance: Discouraged attachments to emails. A performance metric for the Records/Meetings Manager will be to end the use of email attachments by staff and elected officials as a method of transmitting documents, except those that cannot legally be disclosed to the public. Through ongoing training of department staff, the Records/Meetings Officer will encourage the habit of using links to documents in B Clear Docs or elsewhere (e.g. OnBoard) as the preferred means of transmitting documents via e- mail, instead of using attachments.

Performance: Education on existing resources. A Records/Meetings Officer performance metric will include promoting city data and resource materials to interested residents, including working journalists. The Archives/Meetings Manager will provide systematic and ad hoc training to residents and journalists on extracting useful information from the city or other government resources.

Qualifications. The Archives/Meetings Manager’s professional and educational background should include training in database design, information architecture, librarianship, and customer service, as well as advanced skills in digital technology.

PUBLIC MEETINGS (ODL): CIVIL FILES/MEETING OFFICER

Prime directive. One of the Records/Meetings Manager’s primary guidelines will be to ensure that public meetings are aggressively promoted to the public, not just that they meet the minimum Open Door Law (ODL) requirements of Indiana.

Performance: Physical posting of invitations, agendas. A performance measure of the Records/Meetings Officer will be to ensure that all council and committee meetings are at a minimum properly reported to the public at City Hall as required by the Open Door Act of Indiana. A performance measure of the Records/Meetings Officer will be to ensure that all meeting agendas are posted at the entrance to the room where a meeting is to be held, as required by door law Indiana Open.

The Records/Meetings Officer will work with relevant staff to ensure that the large video screen at the entrance to City Hall reviews announcements of that day’s public meetings with directions to the venue specific to the interior of the town hall. The Records/Meetings Officer will work with relevant staff to establish and maintain a secure physical bulletin board for public meeting paper postings that is prominently displayed and clearly labeled with a phrase such as: “Upcoming Public Meetings”. The Archives/Meetings Manager will work with relevant staff to create “Meeting Now” signage for all City Hall meeting room doors, with holders that can hold interchangeable plaques with the names of councils and commissions.

Performance: Accessibility of meeting documents. A performance measure of the records/meetings manager will be to ensure that all pages of meeting materials posted on the city’s website for any council or commission are accessible, i.e. they do not are not simply scanned images, but include digital text. The Records/Meetings Officer will work with department staff who are responsible for preparing meeting materials and providing training on ways to test the accessibility of materials and repair defects.

Performance: Accuracy, redundancy of calendar flows. A performance measure of the Records/Meetings Officer will be to ensure that the existing digital calendar feeds for all Council and Committee calendar feeds are accurate and non-redundant. The Archives/Meetings Officer will work with department staff to ensure that digital calendar feeds include links to remote access (Zoom) and to relevant supporting documents.

Performance: Links to documents referenced during meetings. A performance measure of the Records/Meetings Officer will be to ensure that all documents displayed on screen during a public meeting are provided to the public via a link displayed in the hybrid interface chat box (Zoom). This job will involve working with department staff to ensure relevant documents exist in B Clear Docs prior to the start of the meeting.

REGULAR COMMUNICATIONS FROM THE MAYOR: MAYOR

Performance: press releases from the city, including the mayor’s office. The Mayor will ensure that all press releases mentioning a document also include a URL to that document.

Performance: Project status updates. The Mayor will ensure that a publicly accessible database of all city projects is created and updated at least weekly, so that the latest status of current and past projects can be tracked by the public .

Performance: regular press conference. The Mayor or Deputy Mayor will make themselves available at least once a month to answer questions on any topic from residents and established media.

Output: Reports to City Council. The Mayor and City staff will not claim council meeting time for staff presentations. Instead, for each regular meeting, the mayor will provide a one-page memo to council, early enough to be included in the council meeting package, that updates council on the status of various initiatives and activities. The mayor’s memo will contain the names of new appointees to city boards and commissions. The mayor’s memo will include an account of meetings, telephone conversations or email exchanges with other elected or appointed officials (including members of city council) and a brief summary of the topics discussed.