Apparently, it’s not so easy finding out when Metro has a committee meeting.
Metro does post the time of its regular monthly board meeting on its Web site, but not for the committee meetings. Reporting on government agencies has taught me that many decisions tend to get made in committee. Attending committee meetings is a good way to learn how an agency functions and to meet some of the key players.
Metro’s media contact, Raequel Roberts, said the only way to find out when the committees meet every month is to go to Metro headquarters downtown and check the lobby bulletin board. A meeting notice also is posted at the downtown Harris County courthouse, she said.
I asked her if there was someone I could call to find out the meeting schedule without using so much time, gasoline or Metro fare. Roberts told me no.
I am paid to keep tabs on public agencies. So if Metro wants me to jump through that hoop, then fine. But what about the thousands of Metro customers spread out over the 1,285-square-mile service area? What if they want to attend a committee meeting? Should they have to come downtown just to find out the meeting time, and then come downtown again to attend the meeting itself?
“They’re throwing up a veil of secrecy over the agency that shouldn’t be tolerated in the computer age,” said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, an advocacy organization that promotes open government. “Government agencies often forget for whom they work.”
Bill Ogden, a First Amendment and media lawyer in Houston, said the Internet is one of the easiest ways for the government to keep the public notified. The Internet is “cheap and the most readily accessible, so there’s no excuse not to do it.”
Two Metro board members said they didn’t see any problem with posting the committee meetings on the Web.
“I think it’s fine to do that,” said George DeMontrond, III, who chairs the Government/Public Relations Committee. “I don’t know why they don’t do it.”
“I don’t know why they shouldn’t be on the Web site, unless there was some reason they were trying to keep it quiet,” said Terence Fontaine, who was just sworn in as Metro’s newest board member.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly the appearance it gives. Bill Ogden is correct, there’s no reason or excuse for not doing this. Perhaps the board members who agree with that can take it upon themselves the make it happen.