Residents soon will have two new ways to access Fort Worth City Council agendas before public meetings.
Two new electronic kiosks will be placed on either side of City Hall, replacing bulletin boards that Jannette Goodall, Fort Worth city secretary, described as outdated and ineffective. The kiosks use existing equipment and won’t add costs to the city.
Meanwhile, local software developer Chris Reed created Legigram, a free-to-use website that isn’t associated with the city but aggregates City Council agendas and minutes. Legigram is meant to be an additional resource available to members of the public who may find the city’s existing software inaccessible.
“We’re really excited,” Goodall said. “It will be much more accessible… and I hope people will use (the kiosks).”
Residents can start using the kiosks May 30. The city is in its final phase of testing them. The kiosks will be easier to use and city staff can update them remotely in case of an emergency meeting, Goodall said.
The changes come after previous reporting by the Fort Worth Report led to the discovery that agendas for Fort Worth City Council meetings were not in compliance with the Texas Open Meetings Act from Sept. 1, 2021, to March 18, 2022.
Physical agenga postings are required by the Texas Open Meetings Act. The law also allows municipalities to use an “electronic bulletin board” for physical postings, so long as it is publicly accessible within City Hall.
The act requires the electronic bulletin board be “a perpetually illuminated screen on which the governmental body can post messages or notices viewable without manipulation by the public.”
City Council meeting attendees are experiencing other potential changes. During the council’s May 10 meeting, Goodall read out only the agenda item number, rather than the entire agenda item in an effort to speed up the meetings.
“Most cities do not read the posting language because it does add quite a bit of time,” Goodall said. “If you’re the person in the chamber waiting for the last agenda item, it is a plus.”
Audience members could have a harder time following the meeting, critics said. The change may not be permanent; it is part of a discussion on expediting council meetings, Goodall said.
Physical agenda postings are not the only thing Goodall would like to be improved. The city secretary herself occasionally has trouble finding meeting materials on the city’s website.
“I can’t imagine that someone who comes to a meeting once every five years is going to be able to find (materials),” Goodall said.
The city also should investigate a new system for agenda management, Goodall said. As it stands, the city uses two different content management systems to post agendas, council videos and meeting postings.
The process starts with a budget request that Goodall submitted to analyze the cost and implications of replacing the city’s agenda management system, Legistar. It will cost about $75,000.
The updated software would combine City Council agendas, videos of meetings, commission agendas and meeting materials into one location.
“Hopefully, that would be a more user friendly system,” Goodall said. “All of it in one place rather than having to know where to go on the website to find it.”
Legigram is another option for residents to access agenda information. The website, which is free to use and not associated with the city, aggregates information from council agendas and presents them in an updated format.
Reed, who developed Legigram, said it can be difficult to follow council business. He realized this when advocating for improved aquatic centers in Fort Worth.
“I realized that it takes a number of clicks to get into whatever thing it is that you’re trying to follow,” Reed said. “I think it’s important for us, as a community, to look at improving the tools that allow us to participate in a productive and respectful manner.”
The site pulls code from the Legistar site to aggregate the information. Legistar is used by cities across the country in cities like New York and San Francisco. The site should be a supplement to existing access available to residents, Reed said.
City councils in Dallas, North Richland Hills, McKinney, Austin, El Paso and Harris County also have a presence on Legigram.
“I think one of the things that a lot of us are really missing is a feeling of ownership over government,” Reed said. “I think there are a lot of people who want things to go better, and they’re looking for a means of doing that while also trying to pay the rent.”
Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.