City may stop publishing agendas in newspapers

City Clerk proposal would save about $35,000; residents worry it may decrease transparency

The Palo Alto City Council will consider tonight (Monday) whether to scrap a local ordinance that requires the city to publish council agendas in a local newspaper of general circulation.

The agendas are currently published in the Weekly, which gets mailed to local residences on the Friday before the council's Monday meetings.

The council agendas are also posted in a glass display at King Plaza, in front of City Hall, at local libraries and inside the City Council Chambers. They are also available on the city clerk's page on the city's website.

City Clerk Donna Grider, who proposed the policy changed, said the measure would "help the City's bottom line." The city had spent $18,640 on publishing council agendas in fiscal year 2009 and $35,000 in fiscal year 2010, which ended June 30.

The cost of each agenda runs between $480 and $1,200, depending on the size of the agenda.

Grider has recommended that the city delete the sentence in the existing ordinance that requires the city to "publish in a newspaper of general circulation" Instead, the city would be required to fax it to a newspaper.

Though the change is expected to save the city about $35,000, some residents have written letters to the city arguing that the new policy would undercut the council's public-outreach efforts. Natalie Fisher called the proposed new policy a "mistake."

"By eliminating the publication of the agendas, you will be decreasing the transparency of the city government," Fisher wrote.

Resident Carroll Harrington wrote to the council that she thinks it's "vital that the City continue to print the agendas in the local newspapers and not rely on happenstance that people have a computer, are online to see and/or subscribe to the agendas and minutes and will go to the library to see them."

She also noted that Civic Engagement was one of the council's top priorities in 2008 and 2009 and said it's "critical that the public be informed in every way possible."

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Like this comment
Posted by Henry
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 27, 2010 at 8:58 am

With the internet, why spend the money on this? This is NOT a mistake, it is a smart move to save the city money.
If you want to know what is going on, check the city website.
Stop the waste now!

Like this comment
Posted by Jenny
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 27, 2010 at 10:27 am

The PA Weekly are complaining because they're the ones who will loose the revenue from no longer posting the City Agenda. A great way for the City to save money; in future just look on the City's website.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 27, 2010 at 10:33 am

This is just the latest attempt by the City Council to deny Palo Alto citizens knowledge of what they are doing, so only the insiders who follow every last detail show up at meetings and try to influence policy. Not publishing agendas is great for developers, lawyers and anyone else trying to slip something through with little debate. What a joke. What kind of a democracy do we want?

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 27, 2010 at 10:39 am

Why did the price nearly double? Cost-saving measures are important, but if I lived in PA I'd be concerned about this.

Like this comment
Posted by Bill Johnson
publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Sep 27, 2010 at 11:09 am

Bill Johnson is a registered user.

The rates to the city for these ads has not changed in several years. The increased cost projected by the City Clerk is based only on her estimate of the number of meetings and how long the agendas will be in 2010. The more space they take up, the more they cost.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 27, 2010 at 11:16 am

It is important for the city of Palo Alto to continuing publishing agendas. This information should be available to all. Robert McChesney explains why:

Making Media Democratic
Robert W. McChesney

Web Link

The American media system is spinning out of control in a hyper-commercialized frenzy. Fewer than ten transnational media conglomerates dominate much of our media; fewer than two dozen account for the overwhelming majority of our newspapers, magazines, films, television, radio, and books. With every aspect of our media culture now fair game for commercial exploitation, we can look forward to the full-scale commercialization of sports, arts, and education, the disappearance of notions of public service from public discourse, and the degeneration of journalism, political coverage, and children's programming under commercial pressure

Like this comment
Posted by Millie
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 27, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Just another reason to hate the Palo Alto city government. Who do they think pays their outrageous salaries and subsidizes our ridiculous utility rates??

Like this comment
Posted by Tax payer
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 27, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Not everyone has access to the internet at home. There is a lot that is going on at these meetings with Stanford and several other projects using tax dollars and everone should be informed - not just people with computers, time to go to the library or walk to city hall (someone was murdered and robbed there?).

I bet if the issue of those trees that were cut down on Califonia Ave was on the agenda - we could haved saved a lot of money and would not have to worry about the $35k.

Like this comment
Posted by Equal Access for all
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 27, 2010 at 1:53 pm

I don't think this is a good idea. While I am very comfortable using a PC, many (not all, but a significant number) of my elderly neighbors don't have access to the internet. The newspaper is their primary source of information. I don't like the idea of cutting them from the loop. I hope the city will not do this.

Being able to afford and use an expensive and complicated piece of equipment should not be a prerequisite for having access to important public information.

Like this comment
Posted by who cares
a resident of Triple El
on Sep 27, 2010 at 3:09 pm

Eliminate sources of information, eliminate government accountability. $35,000 wouldn't even cover an eighth of what it costs to hire the numerous "blue ribbon committees" apparently needed by council to make any comprehensive decision. I am sure the city manager approves of eliminating the publishing of the council agenda as his $2,000,000 home payment,$50,000 remodel, and payment of his property taxes, each at tax payer expense, could easily have been hidden from public scrutiny. How does making it harder to obtain information create a more efficient government?

Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 27, 2010 at 3:18 pm

Palo Alto City Council
City of Palo Alto
Palo Alto, CA 94301
Cc: James Keene

Subj: Shift From Analog/Paper Announcements of Official City Business to the Digital
Date: 09.27.10

Elected Council Members:

I support the transition from newspaper ads for announcement of City to of Palo Alto official business, using the Internet, and other digital formats which are easily available to City officials, both in terms of preparation, and distribution distribution. The general belief that at least 90% of Palo Altans have access to the Internet in their homes, offices, cell phones and numerous free access in dozens of "hotspots" around the town, makes it difficult to want to continue the expensive newspaper announcement scheme of the pre-digital age.

However, there are several issues to be considered in making this decision, such as which digital formats should be supported, and what delivery schemes should be utilized to distribute . Another involves retention periods of digital files, which has not been yet seriously considered by the City Clerk.

The following are the obvious primary and secondary digital delivery schemes that the City should be prepared to the residents and businesses, in order to provide the widest coverage of digital formats, which would be needed to supplant newspaper-based announcements—

Primary Delivery Options

1) Email
2) Web-site
3) Social Networks
a) Twitter
b) Facebook, Myspace, etc.

Email could be used to deliver simple messages, or links to the City’s WEB-site, where more detailed information would be located.

Additional Delivery Options

4) Voicemail delivery to residents’ voice mail boxes
5) Voice Message available on City’s PBX
6) iPod-formatted messages
7) Other digital formats (mp3)
8) iPad Applications
9) Smartphone Applications (iPhone, Android)
10) Youtube video announcements

The money saved from paying the publishers of local newspapers could be applied to the software development, and to augment any hardware needed to support this innovation. It is difficult to believe that the City of Palo Alto has not already moved towards this sort of technology to reduce costs and to increase the availability of information relative to City of Palo Alto official business.

Wayne Martin
Palo Alto, CA

Like this comment
Posted by Jo Ann
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 27, 2010 at 4:14 pm

$35,000 to forward agendas?????

Boy, do we get ripped off. How much time can it take to hit forward to X newspapers via email???

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