Stacy H. Senskey, Certified Municipal Clerk and City of Ashtabula Clerk of Council, knew there was a better way. Based on conversations she’d had with her predecessor and peers in the clerking field, which Senskey notes is a tight-knit community, she knew digital software solutions were out there that could create efficiencies, streamline some manual processes, save resources, and increase resident engagement; she just needed to do the research and figuring out which solution was the best fit for their organization.
“Our previous clerk was a big proponent of an agenda and meeting management solution,” Senskey said. “She was very involved in professional clerk organizations and went to conferences.”
“I became a clerk in September 2019 and started searching in early 2020 just before COVID hit. I planned to do the same and attend conferences in 2020 and 2021 and hoped to talk with companies such as CivicPlus face to face,” Senskey said.
Unfortunately, she did not get that chance due to the pandemic.
“I spent well over a year and a half researching and planning before selecting the CivicClerk platform and really the only reaching out I could do was via email to clerks asking what platforms they use, then speaking with representatives of the different companies,” Senskey said. “CivicPlus representatives were absolutely helpful and engaging from day one and made the process fairly easy once I settled on CivicClerk.”
The Importance of an Easy-to-Use Solution
“I talked to about seven or eight vendors,” Senskey said. “It came down to CivicClerk and Granicus. Ultimately, we went with the CivicPlus solution because it wasn’t too demanding on the technical side. We needed a tool that was simple enough for our Councilors to navigate and interact with.”
Also factoring into the decision, CivicPlus worked with her to find an affordable solution package.
“We’re a small city,” Senskey said. “It was a significant amount of money to come out of the legislative branch.” She believes the investment is already paying off and will continue to do so at an even higher rate as the organization continues to learn how to leverage the solution features.
“I think, for the future, it’s going to just make it so much easier for everybody.”
Saving Time and Resources
Manual processes are something that Senskey targeted when it came to putting together a new meeting management workflow for agenda packet creation and tasks like editing minutes.
“It was a manual process,” Senskey said. “There was no previous software. We would print out packets to distribute to people not knowing if they would be there or not, so we were wasting a lot of paper. Now we just print off one copy to have available for people to look at and are planning to utilize TV screens to post agendas, so people have clear visibility.”
Council members noticed the new technological efficiencies as well.
“At least one Councilor uses the note-taking functionality all the time, and I think that’s great; I just love it,” Senskey said.
Senskey also notes how much easier it is to make edits to documentation and updates in real-time while tracking minutes.
“The basic editing of the document was probably the worst thing I had to deal with in our old system,” Senskey said. “It was just a mess. Now, I don't have to worry about that. It's easy for people to go to the right page. It’s super easy for them to refer to the documents they need right in the board portal. Several use it after the fact to refer back,” Senskey said, mentioning that she continues to learn system shortcuts like implementing the timer feature to help her keep track of speakers for the minutes for even more specific tracking and search functionality.
She also sees ways she can continue to improve processes.
“I could set things up a lot sooner, like if somebody sends me an idea for an agenda item for the committee meeting. I can add it right to the meeting agenda right away, so I don't forget about it.”
Increasing Engagement, Interaction, and Visibility
One of Senskey and her team’s priorities was giving people the best ability to have a complete and transparent view of what’s on agenda and meeting documentation.
“The civic and public engagement factor of it—there is an older couple, such a cute couple, and they want me to print them a packet every time they come. But they told me that if I had a TV screen in Council Chambers, they wouldn't need that paper packet anymore because they could go through it just like how we are going through it.”
The ideas are still coming. Ashtabula used to only stream regular council meetings, but Senskey reports that additional committees are now doing the same, giving residents more visibility into administrative activities and policymaking than ever.
“It’s going to benefit those committees because people will hear what’s going on more so through the video,” she said.
Goals and Results
The City of Ashtabula set four goals to improve its agenda and meeting management solutions. The city wanted to:
- Increase public engagement
- Gain efficiencies for the Clerk
- Make it easier for councilors to interact and communicate
- Reduce paper usage
Senskey, on the tall and time-consuming task of maintaining all those agendas and meeting documents and now having some additional time and resources, said, “We needed something that was going to make meeting management easier so I can work with the public more. It shouldn't be that you can only concentrate on the agendas and the minutes. A Clerk of Council acts as a liaison between City Council and the residents. Public interaction is critical in this position.”