Civil rights group calls for text alerts for public meeting

(TNS) – Government agencies should facilitate public participation by sending SMS notifications when meeting agenda items are being discussed, civil rights activist Shane Harris told a press conference announcing the proposal on Wednesday.

Harris, president of the People’s Association of Justice Advocates, said his organization called government agencies, including the San Diego City Council, the County Board of Supervisors, the San Diego Unified School District and the Office of the county education, to create text systems to alert people. when the items they follow are open for review.

As government agencies began broadcasting meetings during the pandemic, members of the public waited hours to make comments by phone or video. Changes in the order of agendas make it harder to guess when a topic will come up, and speakers sometimes take the time to take time off work, school or parenthood to line up for themselves. address to a local council or council.

“When they call these meetings, people are not given priority at the public meetings organized by our county councils and city councils,” said Harris. “As people sought to intervene on these issues, they struggled because of the technological challenges.”

Kasey Zahner, a member of the gun reform organization MOMS Demand Action, said long wait times for providing public commentary discourage attendance at government meetings.

“I waited one, two or even three hours to talk about topics that affect the safety of students and families,” Zahner said, adding that she had seen other attendees leave the meetings before their point of view. agenda is not addressed. “Having to wait on hold indefinitely creates barriers to civic participation. “

Harris said a text system could reduce wait times by alerting speakers to specific items they want to address. Calling his proposal “Boost Democracy,” he said the technology to do so was not new. Restaurants are already using SMS notifications to let customers know when their tables are ready, so building similar apps to alert speakers to agenda items shouldn’t be difficult, he said.

Abdur Rahim-Hameed, president of the National Black Contractors Association, said small businesses are particularly disadvantaged by long wait times for public meetings. While large businesses can send a representative to speak on their behalf, small business owners cannot take time off work. A text system would make this more manageable, he said.

“Since we have this technology and live in a technological age, it is time for us to use the tools that are available to us,” said Rahim-Hameed.

Harris said he took up the idea with officials at major San Diego agencies and expects some to adopt an SMS notification system soon.

The San Diego County Office of Education received the proposal on Wednesday and is reviewing it, Music Watson spokeswoman said.

Scott Barnett, chief of staff to county supervisor Joel Anderson, said the supervisor would likely be interested in the proposal, which is in line with his efforts to increase government transparency.

“While I am not aware that it is being brought directly to our office, I am sure it is something the supervisor would support, and in fact the transparency subcommittee meeting is coming up soon, and I am. will put on a list of items that we are already compiling for the supervisor, ”Barnett said.

© 2021 San Diego Union-Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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