( – promoted by Rob “EaBo Clipper” Eno)
On the heels of the decision to allow twitter access for MA Legislators in the State House there comes a proposal to ban ALL technology access for Brockton City Councilors during council meetings. Yes, there is a proposal to ban ALL technology access for Councilors during their meetings in Brockton.
Under the policy, councilors could not send text messages, e-mail, or other communication during a meeting on issues before them, and they would be prohibited from using computers during meetings. Violators could be ordered from the room by the council president for the remainder of the meeting.
The policy has not been passed or even debated, but it does raise a number of very important issues:
Open Meeting Laws – Providing a record of the inputs to decisions made by government is very important. In my opinion, the answer is not to prohibit the access to information during a meeting, but to provide a means to capture and record electronic communications with and between elected officials. The response to this concern should not be to ban communications, but to actually capture all the communications be they e:mail, text messages or twitter (or anything else) so that they can be provided to the public under FOIA requests. Now municipalities should already be capturing these communications, but it would not surprise me if they were not.
Information and Input – The ability to communicate and provide input to deliberations while they are happening as well as to allow elected officials to access facts and details leads to better discussions, debate and decisions. Restricting this access will negatively impact our elected officials ability to make better decisions and would represent a massive step backwards. It is also imprudent to deny elected officials access to their staff, supporters and experts who could provide them with important and pertinent information to further the debate. Provided these communications are captured and available for review, they enhance not detract from debate and should be encouraged.
Elected Officials’ Decorum – This proposal also raises an issue of elected officials decorum during meetings. Far too many pay scant attention during public testimony. Either they are in another room, chatting with each other or using their computer or PDA to communicate with each other or their constituents and supporters. This behavior shows disdain for the public who come before them to express their views on pending matters. However, taking away technology access is not the way to deal with this. It should be dealt with by (a) the mayor or president of the body in question holding their colleagues accountable and publicly calling them out when appropriate and (b) the public also needs to hold their elected officials accountable for their behavior.
I am not from Brockton, but I hope this proposal fails lest we have similar ideas start to crop up everywhere. We need our elected officials to have information to make decisions not take it away from them.