Long overdue but much appreciated is the City of Rockville’s recent introduction of eComment, an online comment system in which the public can support, question, or object to items on the Mayor and Council agenda prior to a meeting.
According to the City, “the pilot program began with the Monday, April 12, Mayor and Council meeting. Agendas are typically published on the Thursday prior to the Monday meeting. The comment page can be found on the City’s Web site, www.rockvillemd.gov, and will close at 4 p.m. each Monday that there is a Mayor and Council meeting. Comments will be delivered directly to the Mayor and Council through the City Clerk’s Office. All comments are considered public information.”
The City launched eComment as “an opportunity for citizens to make their voices heard; help focus citizen comments to items already on the agenda; let citizens give input when they are unable to attend meetings; and provide the Mayor and Council with an organized report of comments prior to meetings.” I applaud their efforts to increase the ways that citizens can speak to the City (usually it’s the other way round), especially in the Internet Age when online communications are so common and pervasive. It’s an ideal complement to watching the Mayor and Council meetings on the Web and I hope this tool will also be made available with the two dozen Boards and Commissions, and there eventually will be some way that the comments will be posted publicly and promptly so that everyone can “hear” the discussion (just like at a public hearing).
BTW, at the last Historic District Commission, we had a public hearing on the Victory Housing project that included comments from staff but it didn’t require their attendance. I often wonder how we can be more efficient and respectful of staff time when they have to stay into evening to speak for just 5-10 minutes on an agenda item. It usually seems like a waste of time and money. In this instance, the city forester was watching our meeting at home and as we had questions, sent responses via email to the staff person at the meeting, who relayed them to everyone in the room at the appropriate time. By using email, we have an immediate response and a document for the record–and the staff member didn’t have to come in just for our meeting.