One thing that has become apparent after working on the Pillsbury Commons project and looking into housing policy are issues of open goverment and transparency with City of Richfield, especially if you compare it with what other city governments are doing. Government transparency is important because it allows the public to be informed about what the government is working on as well as the policies they are trying to implement. Government transparency gives insight to the public on how decisions are made and hold elected officials or public servants accountable for their actions.

More and more people are expect to be able to access the information they need instantly online. Sometimes given the lack of resources and funding that expectation can be wishful thinking especially when it comes to historical data such as government records created in the pre-digital age. However, with newly created public documents there little reason they cannot be made available online and remain archived online for public accessibility.

The Matrix

Below is the result of some noodling around the city webs sites of Richfield, Edina, Bloomington, Eden Prairie and St. Louis Park. I was frustrated by what I precived as a lack of transparency and open government by City Richfield so I created a Matrix to compare the each city to one another. The results are interesting. Hands down, Edina is doing some of the best work in citizen participation. Not only do they open up their Facebook page to posts as well as comments from its fans but it has what it calls a Citizen Engagement blog where they actively seek out and engage comments on projects and budgets. Something not done by any of the other cities. The only one that comes close is Eden Prairie which does have blogs but has turned off comments on the “City Manager’s blog” the one blog they should be seeking comments on.

One common action across all web sites is live streaming of city council meetings. All cities provide a way for people to watch meetings live online. Most with the exception of Bloomington stream their Planning Commission meetings. However, one area Richfield does shine is livestreams its HRA meetings as well.

Live Streaming is one thing but what if you want to view an older meeting? All web sites do offer some way of archiving their older city council meetings and all but Bloomington archive their past videos of Planning Commission meetings. Since Richfield is the only one filming its HRA meetings it stands to reason it is the only one that can archive it which it does.

However, Richfield does have one big fail when compared to the other cities. It has a policy to only archive older videos of meetings for two months before pulling them down. Edina, Bloomington and Eden Prairie all have video archives of their council meeting going back several years. Given the plummeting cost of digital storage it is odd that Richfield would continue such a policy. It is important to note that all cities including Richfield have their meeting minutes (in PDF or HTML form) posted online going back several years.

One the things the matrix does not measure is the time it takes post agenda notices and the meeting minutes after they are approved which for Richfield seems to be a cronic problem. Other sites like Egan allow people to sign up with their email address to get the agendas and minutes automatically emailed to them like an e-newsletter subscription.

Civic Engagement

Social media is more than just claiming a Facebook account and posting information on it, it is about dialog and focusing on the “citizen” not the “customer” by seeking to engage its citizens as owners of and participants in the creation of public services, not as passive recipients of services.

The matrix reveals each cities thoughts on citizen engagement. Edina, Eden Prairie and St. Louis Park all have policies that allow its “fans” to post directly to the cities Facebook page. However only Edina and Eden Praire have “view all posts” as the default view rather than only posts by the city which going the extra mile for citizen participation. Unfortunately both Richfield and Bloomington do not allow their “fans” to post to their page. Ironically both Edina and Eden Prairie are affluent communities. It may stand to reason that they have less controversial 100% density low-income projects Pillsbury Commons that they have to wrangle by their citizenry like Richfield does or West Bloomington has to with East Bloomington.

South Metro Open Government/Transparency Matrix

Richfield Edina Bloomington Eden Prairie St. Louis Park
People can write or post content on the wall No Yes No Yes Yes
Commenting Turned off? No No No No No
Wall shows all posts by default N/A Yes N/A Yes No
City Council Meetings
Searchable agenda and Minutes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
How far back do archives go? VIDEO: Archived for two months
MINUTES: 5/1/2009
VIDEO: 9/1/2009
MINUTES: 1/1/1997
MINUTES: 1/1/2001
VIDEO: 1/1/2008
MINUTES: 1/1/2004
MINUTES: 8/1/2006
Live Webcast Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Archived Recordings of all taped meetings online No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Meetings on alternative public site No Youtube No No Vimeo
Planning Commission
Searchable agenda and Minutes Yes Yes Yes Yes ???
How far back do archives go? VIDEO: Archived for two months
VIDEO: 9/1/2007 MINUTES:
VIDEO: 1/1/2008
MINUTES: 1/1/2005
VIDEO & TEXT: 2/1/2011
Live Webcast Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Archived Recordings of all taped meetings online No Yes No Yes Yes
Meetings on alternative public site No No No No Vimeo
Housing and Redevelopment Authority Yes, one exists Yes – however little activity since 12/20/2005 Yes, one exists Department Department
Searchable agenda and Minutes Yes Yes yes ??? ???
How far back do archives go? VIDEO: Archived for two months
MINUTES: 1/1/2009
MINUTES: 1996 MINUTES: 2010 No No
Live Webcast Yes No No No No
Archived Recordings of all taped meetings online No No No No No
Meetings on alternative public site No No No No No
Blogs No Yes No Yes No
Allow commenting? N/A Yes N/A Some N/A