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Off to a flying start by talking about something very close to their hearts, the General Assembly's own (yes, everyone admits it's dismal) website.

Chronic problems with open meetings violations ... A creaking Public Information Act that gets Maryland ranked 46 out of 50 states for access to public information?

Truth is, while knowing about bills' status during the annual 90-day car-train-bus wreck that's a typical Gen Ass'y session is important, it's less important than reliable, free or inexpensive 24/7 access to public documents and raw data from anywhere in the state.

Excerpted by permission of the author. The original is online here as "General Assembly committee discusses open government."

ANNAPOLIS - The General Assembly's Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government met last month in Annapolis, and the recorded meeting showed how digital technology can both help and hurt the public's ability to see and hear what their legislators are up to.

The meeting was open to the public, but for those who couldn't be there, the entire 90-minute hearing is archived as digital video on the General Assembly's website www.mlis.state.md.us.

NOTE: Use http://bit.ly/... to go to the video.

According to a 2011 amendment to the Open Meetings Act, the act of live-streaming the meeting, plus keeping an archive of the digital broadcast, is considered the minutes of the committee's meeting.

Unfortunately for the public, the existing General Assembly website is very hard to use and the video is difficult to find. You can Google all day and night and never find the video "minutes."

Ironically enough, the topic of the recent meeting was a redesigned front end for that very General Assembly website, and at the very beginning of the meeting co-chairman state Sen. Bill Ferguson, D-46-Baltimore City, remarked "it can be hard to find certain things."

...
The video record is an excellent example of why "video minutes" alone aren't a particularly good idea.

Exactly who was present at the meeting can't be determined from the video. Ferguson and co-chairman Barve were clearly audible at the beginning when introductions were made. McFadden could be heard.

Two other committee members could not be heard during the introductions. Unless you are personally acquainted with them, you have no idea which of the scores of state legislators they might be. And later in the meeting, a woman in an orange blouse joined in. Apparently, she is either a senator or delegate but remains unidentifiable on the recording. Moreover, if someone joined the meeting late but did not say anything, the public has no idea that they were present at all.

As a practical matter, adding identification under the individuals when they first appear is trivial using Apple's iMovie, but as Gaudiello noted, "we're a Microsoft shop." Windows or not, it seems unreasonable to require anyone - reporter or citizen - to call Annapolis to find out who was actually at the meeting and for how long. Failing to identify participants may also violate the state's Open Meetings Act.

At many points in the recording, either the audio or video or both dropped out. This appears to have something to do with push-to-talk buttons on committee members' desks. The buttons turn microphones off and on, and they switch among the many video cameras so the person speaking is in the frame.

As the meeting concluded, Ferguson said the JCTOG is expected to meet twice more this year. One meeting will focus on the Public Information Act (Maryland's FOIA statute) and another on the Open Meetings Act.

Originally posted to dadadata on Thu Aug 23, 2012 at 10:15 AM PDT.

Also republished by Maryland Kos.

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