Janesville46.8°

Council website now available to the public

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
October 14, 2008

The Janesville City Council on Monday opened to the public a city Web site that once was considered confidential.


Before April 2007, the council information Web site was used by the administration to communicate with the council. Council members could access the site using a password.


But when a councilmember copied a few of the pages for a reporter, the media protested that many of the items on the Web site were not confidential but were matters of public record.


Many items, for example, were answers to questions posed by council members or residents. Often, updates on ongoing or upcoming projects were included, as was correspondence from agencies.


Former City Manager Steve Sheiffer at the time said the Web site initially was created to contain only nonpublic items, such as litigation and negotiation strategy. But he acknowledged that over time it grew to include items that were clearly open to the public.


In April 2007, the council opened the Web site to the media. But that information was sometimes a week old by the time it was e-mailed in the form of a weekly report.


Recently, council president Amy Loasching and council member Tom McDonald asked that the media be allowed immediate access to the information. And they wondered why any member of the public couldn't simply log onto the site at any time.


Loasching said she and McDonald "strongly believe in a transparent government. There shouldn't be anything we're doing as elected officials that we can't share with the community."


The Web site is a great way to get information to the public, Loasching said. If one resident has a question that is answered on the site, it is likely others are asking the same question.


The council also has asked that the administration ready the bi-monthly meeting agendas earlier than it does now.


The council meets on the second and fourth Mondays of each month. Council members get the agenda either Thursday evenings or sometimes Friday mornings. Typically, the media get the agenda on Friday morning, as well.


Loasching said she is hoping staff can ready the agendas by Wednesday at the latest.


Council members then would have more than the weekend to research issues that they may have to vote on the next Monday. Sometimes, community members involved in the issues are not available over the weekend.


"I don't think we should feel that we have to rush or neglect family responsibilities just to make sure we are doing a good job for the city," Loasching said.


"It makes sense that we have that extra time looking at it."


The media also would have more time to alert the public on upcoming issues.


Some committees and commissions might have to adjust their schedules to meet the earlier deadline, Loasching said.


ACCESS THE SITE

Starting this week, anyone interested in reviewing the council information Web site can follow a link on the city Web site, www.ci.janesville.wi.us. The link is on the right side of the home page under the heading of "What's New."


It is also available by clicking the "City Government" tab and then "City Council."


The council information Web site can be accessed directly at www.ci.janesville.wi.us/councilmailer/Default.aspx.



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