Splitting Important Hairs

At last night's Lewisville Planning Board meeting we were reviewing the town's 2010 update to its Comprehensive Plan.  The Comprehensive Plan is a document that is created and revised by a series of task forces made up of volunteer citizens and then sent to the Planning Board for review and from there to the Town Council for final approval and adoption.  The task forces working on the 2010 review took the 2005 version and made necessary updates and edits based on changes in the town over the past five years — changes in the regulatory environment (ex. new Federal stormwater requirements), new developments over the past five years, etc.

One of the additions made was the mention of social media as a form of communication that the town should use to engage and inform its citizens.  During our discussion of that addition we hit on the fact that hyperlinks would be included in the document for the first time since the 2010 version of the Plan will be the first to reside online and not merely in print.  What ensued was a discussion that reminded me of President Clinton's famous quote that it "depends on what the definition of is is."

One of us (it might have been me) said that it would be great to have the ability to go back and add appropriate hyperlinks to the document if new sources of information became available.  For instance if the Comprehensive Plan references a map that isn't currently online, but becomes available online at a later date, it would be great to be able to insert a hyperlink to the map at that time.  The town attorney stopped us and said he'd be hesitant to say that would be allowable, mainly because it would change the document from whatever form the task forces had created, the Planning Board had reviewed and the Town Council had voted to adopt.  I, for one, wasn't sure that adding a hyperlink changed the document since it was merely adding a link to a source that was being referenced by the original document.  Then the question of who would confirm the accuracy of the linked document arose, and it doesn't take much imagination to see that we got started down a pretty serious philosophical rabbit hole from that point on.  

We're not done reviewing the Comprehensive Plan, and I'm still not convinced one way or another on whether or not the addition or deletion of a hyperlink changes a document.  I know our attorney well enough to be 100% sure that he's right legally, but I'm not sure that I agree philosophycally with the law in this case.  In the end I think the rabbit hole we started down will lead to one very significant choice that needs to be addressed: should a document like a town's Comprehensive Plan be a static piece that is changed only when the community comes together every X number of years, or should it be a living, breathing document that is updated on a regular basis? I won't tell you what I think, although you could probably guess, but I'd love to hear what others think.

2 thoughts on “Splitting Important Hairs

  1. Dwight Defee

    Jon,
    Your post brought back memories of conundrums I have encountered in a former career. Based on that experience I can tell you that you will probably never find an approach that will satisfy lawyers or politicians. Still we can all have opinions and you made the mistake of asking for mine.
    With respect to the lawyers concern about the legality of a hyperlink that was not voted on by the governing body, I say “BUNK” a hyperlink is neither legal nor illegal it is simply a link to a different document, map, photo, etc. I recommendation that you add a caveat to the online copy of the document explaining that the included hyperlinks are provided only to facilitate further reading of material related to the plan.
    The question of who would confirm the accuracy of the linked document is to me the more important issue. The “who” could be answered by having the governing body appoint a person either by name or position title to handle the task. The “accuracy” is the real problem because lawyers, politicians, and people in general will argue about the accuracy or inaccuracy of almost anything they read. In my opinion, the best you can do is rely on the appointed person to do the very best they can to make sure the links are technically accurate and that the linked material is relevant and has a reasonable chance of enhancing an understanding of the Comprehensive Plan. Then repeat the caveat at the end of the online copy.
    Dwight
    P.S. Let this be a lesson to you about asking for opinions. You know what they say, “…everybody has one”.

    Reply
  2. Jon Lowder

    …and theyre worth what you pay for them!  You make some great suggestions Dwight and I think youre right about the approach on adding a caveat, and now that you mention it I think it would function much like a footnote or endnote does in a hard copy of a document.  The accuracy issue is a big one and was posed by a friend on Facebook as well (my posts automatically show up on my Facebook page, to the consternation of the people who friended me there).  That issue isnt limited to cited sources either; we had a table of information in the middle of one of the chapters that we reviewed that was of questionable provenance so weve asked for clarification before we include it in the plan.  I also think youre right that it will have to be assigned to an appropriate person or entity, and I also think that if theres significant disagreement about accuracy then that should be made clear as well.
    As always thanks for the very thoughtful comment, and of course your opinion is far more valuable than what I paid for it:)

    Reply

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