Local agencies, from school boards and the community college board to county commissions, generally work hard to include the public in their decision-making. However some districts could make a couple of simple changes that might make those efforts more successful.
Oregon law dictates that most agencies do the public’s business out in the open. School districts, cities and counties rely on local taxes to pay for much of what they do, and local taxpayers have a right to watch and even be part of the decision-making process when that money’s being spent.
Beyond spending money, local districts generally have a say in how local residents live their lives. School districts educate their children, for example, while cities and counties decide where businesses can locate and housing can be built. Public service agencies, including police and firefighters, work to maintain safety and order.
Yet too often the public gets involved only when something sensitive comes up. Then those interested may have to scramble to learn when a topic near and dear to them will be on the agenda of the agency in charge. They may also have to scramble to find out what a governing board actually did about the perceived problem.
Both the city of Bend and the Deschutes County Commission do a good job keeping the public in the loop. Council and commission agendas are posted on their websites early, and minutes go up in reasonably short order after a meeting. Both also broadcast their meetings live on their websites and keep the recordings available there for years. In fact, both give the public website access to recordings of meetings going as far back as 2011.
It’s likely that not every governing body in the region can duplicate all those efforts. They may lack the equipment and staff to allow live taping of meetings, for example.
But they can, and should, make sure that agendas of their meetings are posted and easy to find at least several days before meetings are held. Likewise, they also should work to assure that minutes of those meetings are available on the website within a day or two of each meeting. That isn’t too much for the public to ask.