Information from city of Waukesha meetings becoming more accessible

Published on: 4/21/2014

What goes on at meetings in Waukesha City Hall will soon be made more accessible to the public.

Information will be made accessible in two ways at the city level, both involving its website.

With the city, supporting agenda information — which aldermen receive in their weekly packets — will now be available on its website, This will allow residents to see more details on the agenda items for the weekly city meetings. This change could begin within two months.

Currently, only the agendas, which give limited information, are on the city's website.

The second is online live video streaming of the government meetings that take place inside the Common Council Chambers.

City Administrator Ed Henschel said the city is also in the process of getting City Hall's Randall Room 207 connected and eventually two off-site locations — the Parks and Recreation building and the Waukesha Public Library. But that won't be until at least the next budget period, Henschel said. This change could begin by July, officials said.

City-run meetings at city hall have been videotaped over the last few months and will be added to an archived vault on the city's website when the live streaming begins.

Mayor Shawn Reilly said during the mayoral campaign his goal was for more transparency in city hall, particularly the mayor's office.

'It always bothered me that as a citizen I could only review the agenda on the city website, but I was not able to view the supporting information,' Reilly said. 'The public needs to have the ability to review the same documents being provided to the elected leaders in order to follow and understand the issues.'

Long time coming

Henschel said the discussion for having meetings be more readily available has been going on for the last decade but it had 'too many stops and starts' to keep it moving forward until it was finally approved last year.

Alderman Vance Skinner said the legwork on the project was done by the Information Technology Advisory Committee. This included Skinner, former Alderman John Kalblinger, resident members Don Shelley, Michael Sturino and Robert Stedman, as well as Bret Mantey, who works in the city's IT Department, and Project Manager Chris Pofahl.

'It didn't happen overnight,' Skinner said.

Henschel said the city had a $45,000 budget for the project. The cost ended up being about $32,000 with another $1,400 maintenance cost and to use the Granicus legislative content network. New equipment was purchased last fall.

Also part of these expenses includes the purchase of iPads for aldermen, which will allow them to follow along during meetings, vote on the device and indicate through the iPad when they want to speak during meetings.

Cost-savings measure

The city hasn't yet purchased the iPads, and Henschel said the aldermen will receive training on the iPads in the coming months.

The change to having electronic packets online is a significant cost-savings measure. Pofahl said the city of Appleton, which recently started using Granicus' system, saved an estimated $9,000 in print costs in just the first five months and another $10,000 in minutes automation.

'The return on investment is less than three years,' Henschel said. 'You can't beat that and it becomes more transparent to the public.'

Skinner said he's happy Reilly has been on board with the change.

'This is a great development for the public,' Reilly said. 'Everyone will now have a much better opportunity to stay informed and thereby be able to participate in city government.'