Sunshine in Memphis – Part 2

Yesterday, I talked about the online transparency of the Memphis City government, today I want to touch on the online transparency efforts of the Shelby County government.

First of all, the Shelby County Government’s site is a good deal more visually appealing than the Memphis site, but just as cluttered. The front page does, at least, contain a link to nearly every county department that you might need to interact with. In short, it may not be the best it could be, but it’s not the worst either.

Elected officials are found through a pull-down menu at the left of the page. These are ordered in a way that makes a lot of sense, which is a refreshing change. Selecting “Mayor” takes you to a page that not only tells you about the mayor but also mayoral initiatives, projects, and services that fall under his administration. In fact, all the departments that fall under the administrative purview of the Mayor’s office can be reached in a manner that also follows the inverse chain of command (top to bottom, rather than finding the bottom and then working your way up). That’s good stuff.

Selecting “County Comm” takes you to the front page of the Board of Commissioners. This page is far less organized than that of the members of the Administration. Board member’s pictures line the right side of the right column, the left side of that column lists text links to Online agendas and Committees. This isn’t attractive design, but it is easy enough to navigate.

The Online Agendas link takes you then to a page that asks you to choose between a “search” page, that appears broken when you first look at it, even though it isn’t, and an “Agenda” page that lists the agendas for the past several meetings. The nice thing about this system is that for every meeting there is a list of supporting documents for each item on the agenda. All of these are PDF, so you can download and print easily if you need to. The problem I see with this is that there are not minutes. There is no recorded vote in this list. Hmmm.

I went to the documents section and ran a cursory search. Nothing came up. I did this a couple of times and still got nothing. Frustrated, I decided to go analog, and give them a call.

Turns out, the system is fairly new, which I knew already, and they haven’t exactly worked out how the minutes will either be included, or the manner in which they will be delivered, but the gentleman on the phone said in the coming weeks (4-8 weeks) that the minutes will be included and that they are looking at putting older minutes up also as an archive. This is really good news. Once the system is fully functional, not only will you be able to inspect the information surrounding an issue, but you should be able to search it, along with the minutes and by extension, the voting records of the commissioners. Until then, you’ll have to go downtown and ask for a physical copy of the minutes. I’m excited to see it work, quite honestly.

Addressing the rest of the elected officials in the list, is really too deep and wide a topic for one post. Needless to say, each section follows the same pattern as the Administration officials, many with links to external county run sites. This makes it easier to go directly to the department you’re looking for, even if it does make your bookmarks a little unwieldy.

All in all the Shelby County Government site is pretty good. It’s representative of a government that serves the interests of over a million people (which is a larger population than several states). Yes it’s deep and wide, but so is the government. Access to documents is pretty good, though you still have to go downtown for some things. Ultimately, it’s better than most, which is saying something. There’s still room for improvement. The site suffers from the same problem that the City site does in not listing members of boards and commissions, but for each one there is a contact name and phone number, which is a step up.

Ultimately, most people in Shelby County have even less contact with the county government than I do with the city. Further, press reporting on the County government is virtually nonexistent unless something terribly wrong has happened. There’s a lot of ground to cover, and even more moving parts, but the county seems to be doing more than the city to make sure that people can easily access information. Hopefully the city will follow suit.

This evening, or tomorrow I’ll talk about one of the County departments that I have, perhaps, the most contact with, the Election Commission.

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