West Chester Townships Lack of Transparency
This is the first of several articles on the lack of transparency in our Township government.
Yesterday evening following the Trustee meeting, in a discussion with a few township residents the issue of archiving documents came up. As many know, this is a huge sore spot with me (see Open Government Project). Having had attempted to research past Trustee meetings for several issues, I was frustrated by the manner in which the Township produces and stores documents. Most people are familiar with Adobe PDF’s and most browsers will launch Adobe Reader when you click on a PDF search result that was indexed by the search engines. Adobe reader has a built in function to search for words within a document. It also allows the document to be downloaded and for several documents to be searched for the same words. These functions are really a blessing when researching…That is when the documents are properly archived.
During the conversation, as I attempted to explain the issue, it was suggested that maybe it was a past practice and that current documents were searchable. This morning, I went to the West Chester Township website and selected the most recent Trustee meeting minutes as well as the corresponding meeting agenda. If you click on the two links, and move your mouse pointer over the text, you’ll quickly see the difference between the two.
What struck me as odd was that the meeting agenda is a fully functional PDF, meaning the document can be searched while the meeting minutes was a scanned image. In 2012 as I attempted to research issues from meeting minutes, meeting videos and several megabytes of FOIA documents provided by West Chester Township. I spent countless hours reading documents and when I did find anything related to my research I was forced to have to screenshot the information since copy/paste would select the entire image. I was told that the Township did not have the ability to save documents as a fully functional PDF. The process as explained to me was that all documents produced in software such as Microsoft Word were printed and scanned and then the word document was deleted. The scanner saved the document as an image.
It seems that West Chester does have both the ability and software to archive our documents in a searchable PDF. The question is why are some documents saved in one manner and the others are not?
Years ago, I was asked to build an online document storage and retrieval archive for a drafting company. As many companies do, they had employees leave for other jobs and had found that most of the project management was done on the employees computer. The cost in time for another employee to take over the project was huge. All text documents uploaded to the newly built project management archive I installed were automatically converted to a fully functional PDF. This was in 2004.
I know the technology exists to convert any document to PDF from a single click because I’ve had it on my computer for years. It cost me less than $100 8 years ago.
My question is why is the most valuable thing that our township produces (information) not stored or archived in a manner friendly to the people that pay the bills?