Not surprisingly, Davis' plan has aroused intense controversy and opposition from
advocates of open government.
So here's my modest proposal:
California should establish a statewide web site wherein all local
governments and agencies can publish their agendas. They would still be
mandated by the state to do so, with the same advance notice timelines as
presently exist. But the cost of satisfying the mandate would drop to near
The state web site would provide citizens with a single, easily accessible,
indexed source of information on meeting agendas. Additionally, citizens
would be able to "subscribe" to agendas for a particular local government or
agency, so that those agendas would be automatically emailed to subscribers
as soon as they were posted.
This basic concept would be expanded to include minutes of meetings, as well
as all legal notices that were previously required to be published in
newspapers of record. Again, citizens would be able to easily view the
minutes and the legal notices on-line, as well as subscribe to them by
This concept can be still further expanded to include all legal notices
which individuals and organizations and business are presently required to
publish in newspapers of record. Examples include DBA's and development
proposals and EIRs and initiative measures. Citizens could obtain email
subscriptions to such notices, broken down by category and/or locality.
This proposal would greatly increase accessibility to the above information,
far beyond the present physical posting and print-publishing requirements.
Most Californians these days have access to the Internet, and could check a
centrally maintained web site at least as easily as they can check a
newspaper or travel to meeting location where an agenda or legal notice is
posted on paper. The email subscription capability will assure interested
citizens that they will never miss seeing an agenda, especially in the case
of a special meeting. Even for the increasingly rare instances where a
citizen does not have personal Internet access, that individual can always
go to a public library to obtain the information.
The cost to the state of California for setting up a central web site would
consist of a one-time design expense of between $100,000 and $1,000,000.
Once set up, the web site would function automatically. The only on-going
costs would be for bandwidth and data storage (at most a few thousand
dollars per month). This is a pittance compared to the annual $9.3 million
expense of the current state mandate.
There are many ancillary advantages. Each local government or agency would
be given a password that would allow it to post information (via a web form)
to its portion of the web site. Postings would be automatically
time-stamped, so there'd be no dispute as to whether a deadline had been met
for proper advance notice. All postings would be automatically archived on
the web site, and past agendas and minutes and legal notices could be
accessed based on either date or content (with the assistance of a localized
In addition to saving the state of California over $9 million per year in
mandated expenditures, local governments and agencies throughout California
would save tens or hundreds of millions of dollars per year for legal
notices that previously had to be published in newspapers. Tens or hundreds
of millions of dollars of annual savings by businesses and individuals would
also be realized.
The only losers would be print newspapers, which would no
longer reap this non-productive windfall of revenue. For everyone else it
is a win-win proposition.
This will make the government more open to more citizens at
greatly reduced cost, by utilizing modern technology.