Should Hyattsville Make Weekly Department Memos Public?
City Council keeps tabs on Hyattsville's government with informative, near-weekly memos seen by few other people.
In the first week of January, members of the Hyattsville City Police Department continued an ongoing effort to bring closed-circuit surveillance cameras along Hamilton Street back online Around the same time, Acting City Administrator and City Treasurer Elaine Stookey began work on compiling next year's budget.
In the second week of January, a step-by-step instructional guide on the city's new parking meters was posted to the city website and new lights in recently renovated downtown parking turned on for the first time.
In the third week of January, city parks and recreation staff met with members of the Anacostia Watershed Society to discuss projects in Heurich Park while members of the city's Department of Economic and Community Development pounded the pavement to get the word out about the city's facade improvement grant program.
These details are among some of the items summarized in a series of regularly released internal city department memos designed to shed light on the day-to-day actions of the city's government for those who lead it.
Copies of the reports for the month of January, obtained by Hyattsville Patch through a Maryland Public Information Act request, provide a narrative of city government in action normally unavailable to the average city resident.
The reports are sent every week to members of the Hyattsville City Council and ranking members of the city administrative offices. But members of the public don't enjoy easy access to these records. As it stands now, members of the public must file a Maryland Public Information Act Request to get access to the reports which city policy makers use to keep tabs on the machinery of local government.
For many members of the city council, the reports are valuable policymaking tools.
"The weekly reports are treasures for me," said Councilor Candace Hollingsworth (Ward 1). "I use them to keep myself informed on what's going on, on not a day-to-day basis, bot on a weekly basis…it might give me some insight as to why something might or might not be on the agenda."
While they are called weekly reports, the submission schedule is slightly relaxed. According to Abby Sandel, director of the city's Department of Community Services and communications manager for the city of Hyattsville, if a department had an uneventful few days, there might not be a report that week.
Reason for Redaction?
Members of the city council, as well as city officials, are considering distributing the memos to a wider audience on a more regular basis. The subject was broached during a city council meeting in August, but as of yet no action has been taken.
"There's a general sense that that is the right thing to do," said Sandel. "We just need to figure out the logistics about who is going to review them, who going to redact them."
The need for review and possible redaction could arise if a weekly report were to touch on individual personnel issues or other topics typically held to be confidential within the halls of government.
"We need to do some thinking about what the police report out, what human resources reports out," said Sandel. "There are certain details we can'tjust post on the homepage of the website."
Both Sandel and Hollingsworth said that, in their experience reading the weekly reports, they have not seen too many instances which would have required redaction for a public audience.
"For things with implications with contracts where negotiation concerns come out, I can understand needing to have redaction for those, for reasons similar to why we may have a closed session," said Hollingsworth. "But those are very rare instances."
It remains to be seen when city officials might further develop plans to release the weekly reports to a wider audience.
"No one should have to file a [public information act request] to know what it is their city has been up to on a regular basis," said Hollingsworth.