The City of San Antonio launched eComment, a virtual public commenting platform, on Thursday. The platform allows residents to comment on upcoming City Council agenda items online at their convenience.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced most meetings online, save for Council’s weekly A Session meetings when Council takes votes. Previously, residents would have to appear in person at City Council chambers downtown to have their voices heard. Now, they can comment with a click of a button.
“There are a lot of barriers that people might face” that prevent them from coming to these meetings, said Laura Elizabeth Mayes, assistant director of the City’s Government and Public Affairs department. “From [needing] childcare to avoiding a pandemic. … Anything we can do to make sure government is more accessible to people accomplishes the mission we set: to make it more equitable for everyone.”
The tool will be available for A Session and Council committee meetings, Mayes said.
The eComment platform is located on the City’s agenda portal. Scroll down to the meeting date, then all the way to the right to click on “eComment.”
Comments for next week’s agenda, which includes a discussion on next year’s budget (scroll down to agenda item No. 4), can be found here.
To leave a comment, click on the “comment” button and you’ll be prompted to set up a profile or sign in as a guest. Type a comment, select a position, then submit. These comments are visible to anyone and become part of the public record, so omit personal information you don’t want to be shared.
The same could be said for profanity.
“There is a profanity filter on it but it is part of the public record, so we hope that folks will be on their best behavior,” Mayes said. “We want to space that is safe for everyone to provide feedback.”
The platform also lets residents “sign in to speak” on agenda items in-person during the meeting instead of waiting in line before the meeting. Next to the “comment” button, click “sign in to speak.” Or you can text COMMENT to 55000 to receive a link to submit a comment or register to speak.
The comment section opens when the meeting agenda is posted and closes one minute before the meeting starts. For instance, eComments will close at 8:59 a.m. for next Thursday’s A Session.
This gives City staff and Council members a chance to review the public comments during the meeting, Mayes said.
“Community engagement is the cornerstone of the policymaking process,” City Manager Erik Walsh said in a news release. “The new eComment feature on our agendas will make it easier for anyone to share their ideas with City Council. I hope that the new virtual participation options will increase participation in our City Council meetings.”
San Antonio first started livestreaming its weekly City Council meetings on Facebook last year with limited engagement. Now, amid the coronavirus pandemic, the comment section has blown up.
During an April A Session the Facebook livestream received 309 comments. The most recent meeting in June got 1,793 comments. Facebook comments are not part of the official record.
eComments has been “an idea in the works” for a couple years, but the pandemic has accelerated the need for virtual engagement options, Mayes said.
“I for one am really excited to see more people be part of the process,” she said. “We’re seeing so many more young people involved.”
City Council meetings can be viewed in English, Spanish, and American Sign Language on SanAntonio.gov/TVSA and the City’s Facebook page, or heard by dialing 210-207-5555.