Politics Blog

Bellingham's council meeting webpage gets much-needed improvement

The City of Bellingham's meetings webpage has a new look and some new features.

The old system may Rest In Peace. In 2 1/4 years as a Herald reporter, I never exactly figured out the City Council agenda. Committee items and items for the evening meeting ran together in a way that made me unsure what actually was getting considered at the full council meeting.

(I preferred the webpage for Whatcom County's agenda ; while not super-user friendly, it was easier to follow.)

The city has corrected for its shortcoming, and then some. All committee meetings (held during the morning or afternoon of the full council's evening meetings), and the full meeting, are listed separately. Web and PDF versions of the agendas are available, along with a PDF of each meeting packet (the ream of information council members get, in order to prepare for the meeting).

Click on "Web" under agenda, and you get clickable agenda items that yield the documents that go with that item. Also, for meetings that have already taken place, clicking a particular agenda item turns on a video screen at the upper right corner of the page, cued to the time when that item was discussed.

This means no more fast-forwarding 2 hours through a meeting to find the topic I want. On the other hand, there was some value to the fast-forwarding. More often than not, as I was passing over the open session, I would see Wendy Harris up at the podium. So I could stop and see what she had to say. (That held true for other commenters, too.)

The only glitch -- very minor -- was that I had to update my computer's version of Silverlight to run the video. The update was more painless than I had expected.

Overall, hats off to the city's IT officials. They read my mind.

Here's the city's press release, issued Wednesday, April 30:

New and improved public access to City Council materials and videos

Posted: April 30, 2014 3:58:01 PM PDT

New online tools make information about Bellingham City Council meetings easier for the public to access. 

The new system is up and running on the City's website at www.cob.org/meetings.

Complete meeting materials are now available by Wednesday afternoon prior to Monday's Council meeting (one day earlier).  The packet can be downloaded to personal computers, saving paper, time and money. 

"We are excited to offer this enhanced access to our citizens, staff and the Council," said Cathy Lehman, Council President.  The project included providing iPads to Council members to easily review their meeting materials, both before and during the meetings.

The system enables online users to click on an agenda item and instantly see the documents associated with that item.  After the meeting, when a user clicks on the agenda item the video fast-forwards to that specific spot in the meeting, and can be viewed while simultaneously reviewing the associated documents. 

Separate agendas are posted for each City Council Committee meeting that may occur during the day, then all materials are replicated into the Regular City Council Meeting agenda for the full evening meeting. 

The system also automated the agenda-building process, and reduced the clerical tasks and costs associated with publishing the often voluminous City Council packet. Printed packets will still be available for purchase, but the intent is to significantly reduce the number of packets that are printed.

The City's Planning Commission is next in line to be included in the integrated system.

The project, led by the Information Technology Services Department, began with a Request for Proposals in 2012, and was funded by the Technology Fund in 2013 and 2014.

The improved system replaces older databases that are no longer supported.