There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Friday, December 5, 2008

The logistics of talking with Mike

I'm sitting at a table on Amtrak trying to write this post while regular riders are partying. The "hosts" of the party have seated an attractive 19-year-old college student next to me and plied her with wine. She's nursing her second wine as she carries on a conversation with a woman across the aisle. This is all very exciting for her. It's all very distracting.

What I wanted to talk about was today's chat with Sacramento General Manager Mike Wiley. They really out to call it something else since chatting implies a conversation. This is really more a press conference for the masses: Ask your question, get an answer. No followup allowed.

Here are the questions I asked:

Sacramento, CA: Senate Bill No. 343, amending Section 54957.5 of the Government Code, was signed into law by the governor on Oct. 5, 2007, and took effect this year on July 1. "The act requires the body to post an agenda at least 72 hours before a regular meeting and provides that agendas and [my emphasis] any other writings [end emphasis], when distributed to all, or a majority of all, of the members of a legislative body of a local agency by any person in connection with a matter subject to discussion or consideration at a meeting of the body are public records subject to the public disclosure requirements of the California Public Records Act." This law also specifies that local agencies can post these documents on their web site. I would like to see RT post its entire board report package (minus excluded items) at the time the package is delivered to the board. Any chance of getting the material from this Monday's board meeting?

Reply: Let me address each of the issues you raise: 1. Regional Transit has met the public disclosure requirements. We believe in creating as much transparency as possible, which is the intent of the code. 2. The government code does not require online posting of these documents. It does, as you noted allow online posting. We've been working out the technical issues for posting our board meeting information online before the board meetings. I asked Regional Transit staff to have this up and functional before July 09. As this has moved forward, many of the issues we've addressed have been more about the logistics of this work, than technology. 3. We are also working to bring the board meetings live via the web. Sometime next year this should be available. 4. If you contact our reception desk, they will assist you with obtaining Monday's package.
While I'm sure RT's lawyers are confident that the district meets the letter of the law, that's not necessarily the same as meeting the intent. As Wiley admits, making this material available on the web isn't a technology issue; it's a "logistics" issue. And that logistics issue is simply a matter of telling someone to make it so. That's all that's lacking. As for broadcasting the meetings live, that doesn't in any way make up for the lack of supporting documentation, although it would be useful if the meetings were archived and available online.
Sacramento, CA: Sacramento Regional Transit sends press releases to mainstream media but provides no vehicle for timely distribution to others who are interested in these announcements. Yes, they are posted on the web site, but the web site does not provide RSS feeds that would alert people to changes in the site. I have attempted on more than one occasion to have my email address added to the press release distribution. Nothing has come of these requests. Is this official RT policy? If so, please explain the rationale. In my view, RT should offer a way for anyone interested to subscribe to an email mailing list for RT announcements. There are plenty of web-based free services that could be utilized if cost is an issue.

Reply: Yes, I agree with your assessment. We are working with an automated notification system for riders. The pilot test was limited to about 5,000 people. Our next level of testing will be for the Community Bus System and will be open to all Regional Transit riders.
More logistics problems.

The blonde is working on her third glass. She's just amazed that these old guys party on the train. It's just so cool.


Anonymous said...

Is RT really that pathetic? Sad.

John said...

For the most part, I think having a general manager with 30 years experience with the district is useful. It beats the alternative -- another outsider just marking time until the next job opens.

Unfortunately, 30 years of experience means 30 years of ingrained habits.