When Columbia Countys School Board meets in Appling Tuesday evening, there will be a new twist to the dry, old paper-shuffling among trustees.
For the first time Tuesday, board members will follow the action with laptop computers. Members of the audience for the past month have already been able to view the proceedings via images projected on a big screen.
School officials sought the innovations as a way of cutting down on the volumes of paperwork weighing down trustees. Before each meeting, school board members have in the past received information packets heavy enough to sink the Titanic - and tougher to wade through.
The amount of paper is just tremendous, says trustee Regina Buccafusco, who works with computers in her day job. It would be so easy after the meeting to store and archive it. The way it is now, you could fill up a room (with paper) just after a year.
The switch, designed to not only cut down on excess paper but to speed up interaction with the school systems central office, hasnt come cheap. Laptops for every trustee and the projection equipment and is costing around $20,000.
The bigger price, however, could come in the publics access to their governments proceedings. While it isnt any trustees stated intention, the electronic linkage creates the possibility of virtual meetings to which citizens arent invited.
Our attorney, David Hudson, isnt worried. The risk of "virtual meetings is probably less than by phone hookup when the public and the press are not notified or given a chance to listen in, says Hudson, who also is the communications-law specialist for the Georgia Press Association.
For Columbia County, access to meetings hasnt been a problem. Its been the lack of public involvement in them. While some parents are justifiably angry that Tuesday evening also will bring the likely approval of a controversial school calendar designed without public input, too few parents are inclined to pay close attention to their school board or other governing bodies once elections are over.
This doesnt get school officials off the hook: They should be far more accommodating to citizens who want a give-and-take with their elected and appointed officials, especially on matters as fundamental as a school calendar. But citizens have to do their part, too, by acting responsibly when such forums are held - and, more importantly, by showing interest even when there is no crisis to rouse them.
Tuesdays session will showcase some futuristic electronics. But in the end, its still old-fashioned citizen scrutiny that makes the best government.
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