Comment on Changes to MA Open Meeting Law
(Submitted via e-mail to openmeeting@state.ma.us 4/20/10 )

April 20, 2010

Robert A. Nasdor
Director, Division of Open Government
Office of Attorney General
One Ashburton Place
Boston, MA 02108

Dear Mr. Nasdor:

This comment has two purposes: (1) to encourage state government to emphasize the use of distance media, especially web sites, to post meeting notices; and (2) to encourage state government to make meeting agendas more useful.

1. The state should allow, as minimal support, 24-hour accessible posting at municipal buildings by physical bulletin board or electronic monitor. I would point out, however, that any alternative that requires a physical trip to a specific location will be of limited use to most people, because most people will not live near city hall, and those with physical handicaps will have difficulty going there, especially at night.

2. While cable television provides an alternative for sighted people, cable is not universally available and the existence of a city channel may not be apparent to most people. (I was not aware of Somerville's cable channel until I happened to become involved for a time with a cable show.)

3. Telephone numbers with meeting notices have problems for hard-of-hearing people. Also, as with cable television, their existence may not be apparent to most people.

4. Web sites, while not available to those without Internet access, have the advantage of being searchable from anywhere with Internet access at any hour and in any weather. Modern web browsers include facilities, such as magnification, to support people with visual handicaps. I encourage the state to emphasize web access as providing the easiest and fastest access for the majority of people.

I would also like to ask that the State establish rules about meeting agendas and when and how they are made available (hopefully online at least 2 days in advance). I understand that it may be difficult to provide a detailed agenda in times as dynamic as ours. However, the legal requirement for meeting notice may be met by a notice without an advance agenda at all, in which case the only way a citizen has of finding out the agenda is by going to the meeting.

In addition, it is not always clear from the meeting notice, or even a preliminary agenda, whether a meeting includes a public hearing. Legal notice of public hearings is frequently given by inserting a notice in a print newspaper. Such notices will not be useful to citizens who get much of their news online.

Thank you for your attention.

David Dahlbacka

20-Apr-2010