In an effort to better connect with its residents, the city of Saratoga is incorporating artificial intelligence into its operations.

An AI company called Hamlet has contracted with Saratoga to put together council meeting agenda and meeting summaries, as well as planning commission meeting summaries, in the form of newsletters and articles on Hamlet’s website. The company uses a template that city staff put together and then uses an AI model to translate the content of a city document or meeting recording into an article.

Saratoga has a yearlong contract with Hamlet for $12,000 which is set to end on June 30, according to Mayor Yan Zhao.

Hamlet founder Sunil Rajaraman said the eight-person company, which was founded just last year, is working on expanding its operations to offer the same services to other  Bay Area cities.

“We’re backed by some investors and hopefully we can succeed or at our mission, and that’s to work with cities and other types of customers who value the government data that comes from city council meetings and planning commission meetings,” he said.

To cover the possibility of mistakes in the articles it compiles, Hamlet also has an employee who compares the articles with the original documents or meeting recordings to avoid publishing incorrect information, Rajaraman said.

The company’s website is linked in the emails that the city of Saratoga sends to residents who signed up to receive alerts when the city posts council meeting agendas or meeting notices.

“You can also view and subscribe to receive a preview of upcoming city council meetings and summaries of past meetings by visiting the city of Saratoga’s Hamlet GovCenter,” the emails state.

Saratoga is Hamlet’s only client at the moment, Rajaraman said they plan to add two more cities to the list in the next three months.

While the company’s initial goal was to summarize government documents and meetings for Bay Area cities that may not have their own local newspapers, he added, the AI model they use is not quite sophisticated enough to do so. Instead, the company is working on “going deeper” in a smaller number of cities.

Rajaraman, who was born in Saratoga and now lives in Orinda, came up with the idea for the company after a failed run for Orinda City Council.

He said he realized just how many conversations about local government happened online based on incorrect information, and wanted to add context to those conversations with information that’s already publicly available.

“Ultimately, it ends up being a timesaver for governments that work with us so that they don’t have to field mundane or inflammatory questions that might come from Nextdoor,” he said.

Mayor Zhao said the Hamlet summaries help encourage transparency and garner more engagement from residents with the city government

“This is an invaluable third-party tool that enhances public understanding of city affairs,” she said. “It’s just one more tool in our toolbox in our efforts to maintain transparency in city council proceedings, offering an accessible format that keeps our residents well-informed.”

She said they have not noted any inaccuracies in the summaries that get posted, but also haven’t heard much feedback from residents. Officials will decide whether to renew their contract with the company later this summer depending on whether the number of newsletter subscribers continues to grow, she said.

Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University, said the partnership between the company and the city of Saratoga has the potential to improve transparency within local government.

“That sounds like a net win as long as we’re clear that it doesn’t replace journalistic functions as we traditionally conceive of it,” he said.

Rajaraman said in a medium post announcing his launch of the company that it is not a journalistic organization and has “no plans to cover local news.”

“We are focused solely on turning difficult-to-understand local data into understandable newsletters,” he said in the post.

While the growing prevalence of AI has raised concerns about privacy, Goldman said he doesn’t see those traditional concerns applying to Hamlet.

“It all depends on the use case for the for the outputs, but if the outputs are terrible, then I would hope that the government would stop paying for them,” he said.