Today’s web based public hearing conducted by ORCA to accept public testimony on the $1.7 billion Hurricane Ike/Dolly CDBG Disaster Relief Texas state plan crashed. Among others, I dutifully registered in advance and followed the participation instructions provided by ORCA to log into the meeting.
Public hearings are required by the federal government as a precondition to the State of Texas receiving the CDBG funds.
First problem – No sound was being broadcast from the hearing over the VoIP connection. I frantically typed messages in the questions pane on the web interface but no one at ORCA ever responded.
Working around that barrier, I called into a long distance number on a POTS line and finally got an audio connection and was able to join the hearing in progress. Although, if you could not afford a two hour long distance phone bill you would have been unable to offer your comments on this program intended to assist and presumedly seeking input from low and moderate income families.
Then, about 20 minutes into the hearing, while the ORCA staff was still explaining the program and before anyone in the public had a chance to offer testimony, the computer video froze and the phone line went dead. Calling back in connected got a connection to a dead phone line. A message from the GoToMeeting.com server on my computer screen said that GoToMeeting was “waiting for the meeting host (ORCA) to join.” Someone at ORCA clearly pulled the plug on web participation in the public hearing.
So I did not get to “GoToMeeting” with ORCA and TDHCA today nor was I allowed to provide the testimony I prepared regarding the state’s massive disaster rebuilding program. If this were just any old meeting the failure of the technology might be excusable. But this is a public hearing on a $1.7 billion government program and ORCA has allocated itself tens of millions in administrative funds to prepare plans, hold these public hearings and oversee the program. Like too many other aspects of the current Texas disaster rebuilding program the state’s administrative performance is simply not working.
Did ORCA staff call or email the registered participants who they required to register for this hearing in advance to apologize or offer an alternate way for them to participate in a public hearing? No.
Now I know how Texas hurricane survivors feel who are waiting for help from ORCA to rebuild — frustrated and ignored.
I have not found a direct contact link on your blog, so I’ll have to communicate with you here.
I’d like to apologize for the webcast crash. It was a power issue and once we lost the connection, I was unable to restore it. It certainly wasn’t deliberate.
We can offer you a full audio recording of the meeting if you would like, and a transcript will be available in a week or so.
This was the first time we had attempted to webcast a hearing remotely like this, arranged on a very short timeframe. ORCA made this effort as a convenience to interested parties. This use of web technology was a good faith effort to provide access and transparency beyond what is legally required.
To my knowledge — and I was the one running the webcast — You were the only online participant that had audio issues. Other than halting the entire proceeding, there was little I could do to assist you.
There are four more such meetings; info here:
We welcome your input. ORCA will accept email (email@example.com), US mail and in-person comments through September 14, 2009.
Dan Robertson, Public Information Officer
Office of Rural Community Affairs
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