Great ideas, but…

Published 10:38 am Thursday, April 7, 2011

Daily Herald editorial

We like the way the Austin City Council is thinking about paperless council agendas and about making its meetings even more accessible to the public by streaming video on-line. Those ideas, which came up at a council work session earlier this week, need some more work when it comes to the cost of implementation.

Moving to paperless agendas would require providing council members some means to view documents electronically. Paperless is a good idea, not least because it might over the long term save money — which it won’t, if the project requires spending $12,500 on laptops, the price quoted at the meeting. If what council members need to do is look at documents, $200 e-readers would do the job — and they would be a lot more convenient.

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The same cost-conscious thinking ought to be applied to streaming meetings on-line. Streaming video would be a great way to make meetings even more open to the community (something, it should be noted, that Austin city government does well). But, as with paperless agenda, the city needs to keep the cost for the project to a minimum: The $110,000 figure that came out at this week’s meeting is too high. The council does not, for instance, need a 70-inch flat-panel television and two new 60-inch televisions to stream video. While it is true that most of the money would come from cable access fees, it’s still taxpayer money that ought to be spent as conservatively as possible. (And, if all that money isn’t needed, maybe there’s some way to stop collecting it from residents.)

We hope the city council finds a way to go paperless. We hope it starts streaming its meetings. They are both good, creative ideas. We hope even more fervently that the council finds a minimum-expense method for doing both.