A revamped website, virtual public hearings and expanded live filming of committee meetings are among the recommendations being made to the Waupaca Common Council in an effort to make the city more transparent.
“I don’t want anyone to construe that the city is not doing a good job,” City Administrator Henry Veleker told the Common Council during a meeting earlier this month.
He cited one example of something the city already does – the live filming of council meetings.
Throughout the country, there is a trend at every level of government to provide more information, Veleker said.
As a result, a group of city employees spent the past several months reviewing the city’s current transparency efforts and discussing if there are ways the city can improve how it provides information to the public.
The teams made the following recommendations:
• Conduct a survey through the city’s monthly utility billing to get an idea about what kind of information the public wants to see on the city’s website.
• Revamp the city’s website to improve its usability while also making financial information more prevalent, while posting major city contracts and project updates on it.
• Create a virtual public hearing opportunity so people could express their opinions digitally, while also using it as a way to get input about issues and projects when a public hearing is not actually required.
• Expand the live filming of city-related committee and commissions by moving the Police and Fire Commission, Park and Recreation Board, Library Board and Airport Board meetings to the council chambers.
• Expand the information provided within the city’s annual budget document to include a list of all positions in city departments, the number of employees in various positions and their annual salaries, detailed benefit costs, key benchmarks within each department and brief explanations about what each department does.
• Expand radio as a platform to get information to the public. This includes the investigation of creating a municipal-related show.
• Put more meeting packets on the city’s website and improve the ability to search the packets.
The revamping of the city’s website is already under way after the Common Council gave city staff permission to move the building of the website in-house.
Joshua Werner, the city’s IT specialist, said using WordPress would be easier to use and allow city staff to update the website.
The cost of the city’s current website management contract is $2,400 per year. That contract is up soon.
Werner said the city also wants the site to be mobile friendly.
“The website is organized logically, but we want to revamp it to make it even easier to use,” he said.
The idea of filming more city committees live resulted in a discussion.
Police Chief Tim Goke said he is not against the idea of filming Police and Fire Commission meetings but said where those meetings are held should be up to his commission and “not be dictated by staff.”
Having meetings in the Police Department’s conference room allows for quick access to any needed information or materials and also the ability to get input from officers, he said.
Library Director Peg Burington also said she wanted her Library Board to weigh in on the idea.
It is nice to meet in the library, since that is what they discuss, she said.
Parks and Recreation Director Aaron Jenson said that like the police chief, there is a convenience factor having meetings in the rec center.
Moving those meetings to the council chambers would be fine, he said.
Mayor Brian Smith said when he first became the city’s mayor, the city’s major committees were filmed, in addition to the council meetings.
Last year, the city switched from having four major committees – the Board of Public Works, Finance, Judiciary and Personnel committees – and one monthly council meeting to having two monthly council meetings.
The mayor said the city never went beyond filming the council and major committee meetings.
Goke said he is not contesting the idea of openness. “I just want them (Police and Fire Commission) involved so it’s not a council decision,” he said.