Wednesday, August 22, 2012
By: The Daily Progress | The Daily Progress
Published: August 02, 2012 Updated: August 02, 2012 - 12:53 AM
Virginia was spared this year from legislation that would have allowed local governments to meet public notice requirements by publishing information on websites, radio or television.
But we were reminded of the problems of electronic publishing by the recent brouhaha over publication of meeting data for the Uranium Working Group. If the proposed law ever comes up again, flaws in the information process regarding the uranium meetings should remind people why the legislation is a bad idea.
On July 24 and July 25, the state published details about the Aug. 1 and Aug. 2 public hearing and UWG meeting. But in order to speak at the Aug. 2 meeting, members of the public had to sign up in advance (“Getting info shouldn’t be so difficult,” July 31).
Not only did the process provide short notice of the logistics of the meeting, but the electronic announcements were difficult to find. People who wanted to speak at the meeting were under a tight deadline to sign up — but first they had to find the pertinent information.
It took a round of phone calls from this newspaper to determine where the information might be posted — and journalists, who frequently use online sources, are generally no slouches at finding information. If it was tough for us, it probably would be doubly difficult for members of the general public.
Once found, the online agenda for the Aug. 2 meeting announced that the deadline had been extended for people wishing to sign up to speak.
All’s well that ends well … in a way. (We’ll leave you to decide whether public complaints and newspaper coverage helped hold government officials accountable, and whether the deadline would have been extended without such incentives.)
But the incident illustrates some of the inherent difficulties in electronic publication. “You can’t spend your whole life searching at random on the Internet” for public information, said Robert Burnley, environmental consultant, to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Public information can be posted online but still be exceedingly difficult to discover, buried under menus and submenus. And this is precisely the kind of difficulty that spurred the successful opposition to the electronic publication law during the past session of the General Assembly.