Monday, December 3, 2012

District Council Web Site, Information and Transparency

Below is an excerpt from the Fifth Interim Report of the Review Officer, covering June 4, 2012, to December 3, 2012.

District Council Web Site, Information and Transparency

Section l2.G of the District Council Bylaws states that “the Executive Committee shall have the authority and responsibility to provide information about the District Council to the public and the membership including by publishing The Carpenter and effectively maintaining the District Council website. When presenting information to the public and the membership, the Executive Committee shall provide information fairly reflecting the range of positions and points of view on subjects relevant to the District Council and members.”

Despite the foregoing requirement, the Executive Committee has failed the membership by either negligent lack of attention to the rule or willful avoidance of it. I have had to repeatedly prod the District Council leadership over the course of months to address this deficiency. Within the last month, I informed counsel that, without appropriate action by the Executive Committee, I would be left with no recourse but to assert my authority to compel compliance.

Within the last two weeks, the District Council web site has added a somewhat nebulous “Feedback” feature that does not expressly advise members that the Council is soliciting submissions on “the range of positions and points of view on subjects relevant to the District Council and members.”

I will reserve judgment on the “Feedback” feature (indicated by a bare and unexplained icon on the web site home page), but based on the Executive Committee’s performance to date regarding compliance with Section l2.G, I do not hold out much hope that robust compliance via “Feedback” is imminent.

I have repeatedly informed Union officials and counsel that in my view, compliance with Section l2.G could be achieved by establishing letters to the editor and editorial sections on the web site and in The Carpenter (and that a fair model could be seen by simply examining those sections of the New York Times).

It should be plain to any objective observer that Section l2.G contemplates that incumbent officers and other District Council officials be subject to fair and informed criticism and have an equal right of reply. The web site and newspaper are the property of the approximately 20,000 members of the Union, not the officers and officials responsible for their publication or maintenance.

Those officials and officers will have to decide in short order if the requirement of the Bylaws will be met or whether I will seek a court order to compel such compliance.

Some members also believe that there is a lack of “transparency” in District Council affairs and that this a result of District Council leaders not wanting to keep the membership informed.

In my view, the District Council leadership does need to do a better job of keeping members informed of the business of the District Council. However, I do not believe that they desire to conduct the affairs of the Union in secret.

In fact, the EST invariably gives detailed and straight answers to questions posed by delegates. I believe there is simply insufficient time and attention spent on keeping the members appropriately and promptly informed and that the problem can be easily addressed by committing to considering the answer to one question at the end of each day: what happened today that the membership has a right to know? The post on the member section of the District Council web site that should follow should be self-evident.

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