The Open Meetings Act: Molasses in Winter

So I’ve been involved in municipal government for a few months now, and my biggest takeaway is, “Damn, things move slow.” Don’t get me wrong, I’ve worked with (and at) some execution-challenged organizations in the private sector, but they look positively agile compared to my experience with municipal government.

Now, I don’t mean this to be some kind of anti-government rant—I really don’t. But in retooling this blog to chronicle my foray into state and local government, I wanted to remain true to my outsider status and call it like I see it, for what it’s worth.

And I’ll be honest, one of the biggest stumbling blocks so far has been the Open Meetings Act (OMA), which was created to prevent back room, nefarious dealings in government (a noble and important goal), but which seems more often than not, these days at least, to prevent well-intentioned government stakeholders from being able to get a blessed thing done when not in a public meeting.

Think of it this way: imagine if a corporation couldn’t make decisions or do substantive work unless they held a public meeting, the agenda of which had to be published 48 hours beforehand, and no real work could go on outside of these meetings. I mean, it’s a common complaint that meetings are the main thing preventing corporations from getting work done. So given these constraints, what could you expect them to really accomplish if meetings were the only vehicle for doing work?

Without answering that semi-rhetorical question, I want to take a look at an avenue for both complying with the OMA and getting work done in spite of it: social media. Consumer social media tools like blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and so on, hold out the promise of fostering ongoing productive government work while complying with the OMA…an exciting possibility for those of us frustrated with the limitations on how municipal stakeholders can work to do the people’s business.

To that end, I’ve been doing some research on how government entities can use social media, and I’ll have to admit that there are no clear answers out there—heck, there aren’t even really any clear directions emerging. But based on my research, I’ve built a light infographic that sums up the possibilities open to government entities looking to use social media tools/methods to get work done.

The horizontal axis tracks three things:

  • Level of interaction between government entity and citizen
  • Degree of risk
  • Level of value

The vertical axis tracks:

  • The platform being used
  • The goals of each platform
  • The laws and regulations in force for each platform

The final word

This should give you all a good overview of my experience to date with the OMA and trying to foster effective municipal government. In the next post, I’ll dig into the specifics of the figure above to talk about how municipal (and state and local governments) could begin to use social media to further their agendas and get work done despite the very real barriers presented by antiquated legislation like the OMA.

But in the meantime, I’d love to hear from you all out there about this stuff—so jump in and let’s get the conversation started!

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