Post #317: D-I-Y alerts for Town business relevant to you.

I have finally figured out a way to set up automatic notifications that should send me an email when some forthcoming Town meeting contains an item of interest to me.  It’s not perfect, but it’s the best I’ve been able to figure out so far.  I believe that few people realize this can be done.   So I thought I’d share, just in case you would care to do the same.

The problem.

Suppose that you have a particular interest in (say) trash pickup in the Town of Vienna.  And that, any time this is discussed in a public meeting, you’d like the Town to notify you in advance, e.g., send you an email a few days ahead of the meeting.

Nothing on the Town of Vienna website will allow you to do that.  Or, at least, nothing that I have ever found.  The Town has an Alerts system, but that’s for things like tornadoes and street closings and such.  The Town website would allow you to set up an RSS feed for the Town Calendar, but if that worked, that would notify you every time the calendar changed for any reason.  (And I have my doubts that it does work, based on the community connections section of the Town’s RSS feed page.)

Near as I can tell, before I figured out my current approach, the only way a citizen could be aware of what the Town will discuss is to wait for the Town to post the meeting agenda, then go to the Town website and look at it.

The (partial) solution.

Rely on the Legistar (Granicus) website to do that.  The Town posts meeting notices and agendas on the Legistar website for its four main governing bodies:  Town Council, Planning Commission, Board of Architectural Review, Board of Zoning Appeals.

Legistar allows you easily to set up an account, and then set up alerts based on any set of keywords or phrases that you wish.  Either click the “sign in” link in the upper right corner of that page cited above, or click the “Alerts” link.

Set up any number of alerts based on more or less standard Boolean phrases using AND and OR and NOT.  (So, if I wanted to hear about trash pickup or recycling, I would ask for … “trash pickup” OR recycling.  Search appears to be case-insensitive.  You cannot search for special characters.)

If you click for daily alerts, in theory, the Legistar system will check daily for any new items posted on the Vienna page that mention those words or phrases, and email you if they find a new one.  You can add CC email addresses if you have friends who want to piggyback on your alerts.

Because the Town posts the agendas and meeting details only a few days before each meeting, this should give you a timely reminder of a meeting you would like to attend.

Limitations and caveats.

  1.  You have to trust that the Granicus/Legistar system will work.  They serve thousands of local governments, so it’s a fair bet that it works.
  2. Only those four boards (TC, PC, BAR, BZA) are posted to Granicus/Legistar.
  3. Other important commissions in Vienna (e.g., Transportation Safety Commission) are NOT posted to this website.  The only way to know what those other commissions are doing remains to check the Town calendar (on the Town’s website) to see if they have posted a new meeting agenda.
  4. The search function appears to check the title of each listed agenda item, but does not search through the contents of the attached documents.

Still, this is better than nothing.  And it’s the best method that I have found so far.