Local Government is Unnecessarily Confusing

I’ve always said, since I started this blog back in 2015, that it can be hard to understand exactly what is going on in your local government. There are plans that relate to policies that relate to bylaws that relate to a problem back in 2003 that related to certain personalities that relate to a pot of money and so on, and that all of which together, have an extensive history. This extensive history and background is often not available. Because why should it be, the people who need to know it, know it, and they’re by and large, still sitting around the council table or working behind the scenes as staff and management.

This to me, is worrisome because it means that things are still getting done the way that they have always been done. Local government in 2018 still operate the same way it has for years prior with the only change being, some fancy new technology and citizen engagement practices that unfortunately don’t do much to actually impact internal operations of a given organization. Supporting software programs are commonly used for the bare minimum and people continue doing their jobs the way in which they always have. Even people newly hired into certain municipal positions, will continue doing their job the way in which they were taught. Because that training was complex, and they learned it, so they are going to keep doing things the way they were told.

Now time for some Saanich examples, and when I share these examples, please keep in mind that these are just observations. There are no value judgments. Just observations. Please feel free to share with me some of your own so we can build a larger conversation.

I have been trying since Tuesday to get the GIS department to provide me with a dump of the Shape files behind their separate maps identifying Development Permit Areas. Where the City of Victoria has this information already freely available on their Open Data Catalogue, Saanich does not. What is more, is that the Saanich GIS employee who responded to my email, said that the Business Unit who owns the dataset, wanted to know how I wanted to use it. I told them and they still have not released it.

[update – I am now in possession of the desired data!]

The District of Saanich website is a master class in data segmentation and when I say this, I am not trying to be sarcastic. I’ve spent time in previous jobs maintaining municipal websites and I have spent a significant amount of time researching municipal websites across North America for other jobs. I have never in my life, had to click more times to access related data than I have from the Saanich website. And why this is, is likely because separate distinct employees are likely responsible for separate distinct parts of Saanich Operations and the many separate distinct pages and listings within the Saanich website likely reflect this.

Then we have how the Clerks department uses their purchase of Granicus software to display their meeting related information. It is used only for the display of Council and Committee of the Whole meetings. It is not used for displaying meetings of the dozen other committees and boards through which important Saanich work gets done. Where the reasoning behind this, may be that the work of the dozen committees and boards is less formal than the work of Saanich Council in their full form, I don’t buy the related and unspoken argument that it is less important. Taxpayer money is spent supporting this committees and because of this, we ought to advertise what happens within them.

The other thing I want to say about how Saanich uses Granicus, is that I am going to make it my personal mission over the next few months, to get them to start adding more hyperlinks to their agenda packages. For example, Item F3 for Monday’s council meeting is a a 16 page document that includes 8 separate bylaws. These bylaws are all individually listed in the agenda item bullet, but then the bylaws themselves are all smooshed into one file. Screen Shot 2018-05-04 at 10.23.31 AM

This does not need to happen. Separate attachments can be made and uploaded instead. If anything, uploading attachments this way should be considered easier than creating one large PDF. But then maybe, who knows. Perhaps council prefers one large PDF. For me personally, however, having one large PDF instead of separate ones, makes it seem less likely that the individual supporting documents have been reviewed and understood.

Speaking of one large PDF, it came to my attention that the agenda package for the upcoming meeting of the CRD Board of Directors is nearly 1900 pages long. That to me, is insane for more reasons than one. Not least of which is this brief report (item 5.16) on the agenda identifying the need to move Closed sections of the CRD Board Meetings from the end of the agenda to the beginning, because Director meetings are “long”. I hope the current Directors consider these recommendations carefully because for me personally, it does not make sense that the outgoing Directors will be making changes that will be effective after the upcoming election. For instance, why did the closed meetings get moved to the end of the agenda in the first place?

Screen Shot 2018-05-04 at 10.38.18 AM

With all that said, the CRD also uses Granicus for meeting management and their staff, compared to Saanich staff, at least knows how to effectively hyperlink documents into their constituent parts while also producing a full package document that is internally linked. Perhaps some cross jurisdictional lessons could be arranged?

In sum, local government is complex business with multiple players and multiple moving parts. Within our larger federal and global climate, this business gets more and more complicated each and every day as municipalities continue to find more issues at their front door. This is not a sustainable situation.

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