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County discusses technology updates

On Thursday, the Troup County Board of Commissioners heard about updates to technology that is already in place that could make it easier for citizens to get information about commission meetings.

Troup County uses Granicus brand and Boards and Commissions software to put meeting agendas, meeting minutes, meeting dates and other information online where the public can access it at any time. In the future, the county may be able to provide opportunities for additional public input, online requests to speak at meetings and possibly even video of meetings on its website. The updates are becoming available due to Granicus merging several services that were offered by companies it purchased into one comprehensive product.

“What this will allow is for greater transparency,” County Clerk Valerie West said. “It will allow our minutes and things to be easily accessed by the board and by staff and also citizens.”

West explained how the changes would impact the flow of meetings. The software would record the names of speakers who sign in using the system.

“Say Jay [Anderson, county community development director,] has a really controversial rezoning [meeting] coming up, and citizens want to put their input in,” West said. “They can actually go online and input that information, so you can see all of the comments — not during the meeting, but ahead of time — to see all of the comments and who is opposed, who is in favor. … It’ll show the percentage of people opposed and in favor of it.”

Commissioner Morris Jones asked if the online speaker sign up would make it more difficult for residents who don’t use the county’s website to speak.

“The Troup County Board of Commissioners has always been citizen friendly in all of our meetings, and you are saying that you can sign up if you want to speak,” Jones said. “Say a citizen walks into that meeting and the chairman goes into public hearing. They are still going to speak, but they haven’t signed up. Do you just add them when they come to the podium?”

West said that the online sign up will just provide another option to ask to speak, and residents will still be able to speak at hearings without an online sign up.

“I don’t think — this is my opinion — we are trying to leave anybody out,” Commissioner Lewis Davis said. “We are trying to add people to this conversation.”

She also showed where residents could sign up to receive notices that certain types of items will be on the agenda, like items pertaining to Parks and Recreation. 

The commission also had the opportunity to view what a meeting recording would look like on the website by watching a portion of a meeting in Smyrna, Georgia. If videos are posted, West said that they would be required to remain online for 90 days.

However, she said greater transparency won’t be the only benefit to continuing to use the system. 

“It will cut costs,” West said. “Back when we started to do this five years ago, we were printing out probably about 50 sets of minutes because we provided them to everybody — to the staff, to the media, to the commissioners — and then we also had to change out those pages.”

West said that under the old system last minute corrections of something as simple as a typo-ed number on one page of the agenda meant wasted paper and labor, but the e-agendas mean that the correction is just a click away.

Commission Chairman Patrick Crews asked what the implementation schedule would look like for the new technology, and West said that it could be implemented over time as county staff is trained on its use.