Meeting? No meeting? Schedule? No Schedule? My tax dollars at work, 2/8/2019 PM edit to correct newspaper info.

Posted on February 8, 2019

You can read my recent post about plans to attend and record this morning’s 2/8/2019 Board of Architectural Review (BAR) meeting. But that meeting didn’t happen.  Instead, I got yet another lesson in how little the Town cares about letting the peasantry citizens know what it’s doing.

Here’s the screenshot I took of the Town’s meeting calendar, this morning, plainly showing this morning’s meeting.  I took this after I got back from Town Hall —  because there was no meeting this morning. If you click link for the agenda, you in fact get the agenda for this morning’s meeting.

Clear as mud, right?  If you bother to look up the entry on the Town meetings calendar, you somehow must also be able to guess that the entry is wrong.  The meeting is plainly listed on the Town’s meeting calendar.  Right now.  But there was no meeting.

This was such a good fake-out that even the local press got fooled.   You can read about this meeting, that did not occur, in your local newspaper, in an article published a couple of days ago.   Does this count as fake news, courtesy of the Town of Vienna?  I’m going to take a screen shot of that, as fair use, because no doubt they will eventually take that article down.  (With apologies to Tyson’s Reporter — I could not get a decent shot of the entire page to make sure this was properly credited to that organization, so I’m putting that in writing here.)

So that’s a pretty good trick, when you manage to fake out professionals whose business is reporting the facts.  And who, in my opinion, appear to do that quite well.  (Actually, there’s nothing wrong with the article except for the fact that the meeting did not occur, and that page is still up.)

But wait, can’t you subscribe to a service that will keep you updated on all the changes in the Town’s calendar?  Sure you can.  I do.  It’s the “Notify Me” system, helpfully offered by the Town on this page.

Only, that’s a fake too.  I get some messages from that — enough to remind me that it’s active, and I did in fact sign up to be notified of all Town meetings.  But what I get and don’t get seems to be almost completely random.  Last batch of those came in on 1/24/2019.  E.g.,

Maybe I didn’t sign up to be notified for Town meetings?  Always rule out user error, right?   But I am definitely signed up.  Note the little green check mark next to Town meetings.

The Town offers that service.  But it simply doesn’t work.  Worse, it kind-of-sort-of works.  You get emails about some stuff, some times.  But it does not reliably prompt you about all stuff.

To know that this meeting had been cancelled and rescheduled for 2/15/2019, you had to look on a different, all-events calendar maintained by the Town. 

Let me recap:  If had ignored the Town’s meetings calendar, AND ignored the (lack of) notification from the Town’s email notification service, AND ignored what was (and still is) published in the local newspaper, and instead looked at the Town’s other calendar (the one where you typically can’t access the agenda for the meeting to know what the meeting is about) … OK then, yes, I could have known this without dragging myself down to Town Hall this morning.

Let me be clear.  The fact that these meetings are open to the public, and advertised in advance — that’s not voluntary.  The Town doesn’t do that to be nice.  The Town does that because it’s required by law, in particular, required by the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.   In particular, this section:  § 2.2-3707. Meetings to be public; notice of meetings; recordings; minutes.

I think it’s kind of revealing that the law doesn’t even consider the issue of posting incorrect information about meetings.  Presumably, most government bodies in Virginia avoid doing that.  So this may be a problem unique to the Town of Vienna.

But this kind of horse manure is just the tip of the iceberg for the Town of Vienna.  (Yeah, I’m kind of ticked off at having rolled out of bed at 7 this morning for this phantom meeting.  Wouldn’t you be?)  You are invited to scan some other pages (here, here, here, here, here, and I could keep going) to see that habitual secrecy about its calendar, and use of the barest minimum notification time, is business-as-usual for the Town of Vienna.  This is not new.  And this is not open government. 

I heard a rumor that the Town was, in fact, in response to complaints, actually going to post a tentative calendar of hearings regarding MAC buildings.   (The Town actually has these meetings on its internal calendar, it just keeps that secret until just prior to the meeting date.)  If they have, I haven’t been able to find it yet.   If they do that, and if it is accurate, I will post it here and applaud it.  But given the track record in this area, my guess is, it will be every bit as accurate and useful as the calendar I consulted for this morning’s meeting.