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NeighborNet site for activists launched

Dennis Vogt, by his own admission, didn’t get involved.

Not that he didn’t have opinions on the issues of the day – in fact, he’d come to be fed up with island growth, and skeptical about city government’s ability to control it.

But it was a draft of the city’s Non-Motorized Transportation Plan – which a neighbor noticed showed a pedestrian trail crossing Vogt’s Day Road farm – that got him out to a public meeting.

The trail turned out to be an unopened road right-of-way, included in the plan after a public brainstorming session for possible pedestrian routes.

Although he went before the planning commission and complained, and thinks the trail will be erased from the map, it set him to wondering what else was going on that he didn’t know about.

“I just had never realized what the city was up to, what it was doing, how it worked,” said Vogt, a former land use attorney and now a health-care consultant. “When I asked questions (at city hall), it was very difficult. It’s chaotic. It’s very difficult for a citizen to penetrate what’s going on over there.

“I guess I was like a lot of people – I sat around and moaned and groaned. I finally got tipped over enough to do something.”

“Something” turned out to be the Bainbridge Island NeighborNet (www.binn.blogspot.com), an online clearinghouse of information – with a healthy dose of inference and speculation likely to be mixed in – designed “to preserve and defend this wonderful place (that) can so easily be lost.”

The site was launched earlier this month; the first installment includes a commentary called “Let’s find a way to better preserve our island.”

Therein, Vogt opines on what he perceives as the deficiencies in local public process, including lax notice procedures and a city government that has grown so large that not even employees can keep track of everything going on around them in city hall.

“The city planning process has actually metastasized into an uncoordinated, ‘non-planning’ process,” Vogt writes, “punctuated along the way by angry objections from those who ‘just now found out what was going on.’”

He envisions NeighborNet as an “always-convened Town Meeting, allowing islanders to converse about issues outside the formal and often adversarial city meeting process.”

The site, he hopes, will foster an island-wide network of “lively and effective” neighborhood associations,” ready when necessary to hold single-issue public meetings to shape policy.

Central to the site is the presupposition that the island is turning into “McUrbia.”

Vogt considers himself allied with the Association of Bainbridge Communities, and has offered to put back issues of their Scotch Broom newsletter online.

ABC, in turn, is helping Vogt form an East Day Road Neighborhood Association.

Vogt also plans to incorporate the site as a non-profit organization, and won’t sell advertising.

“It really is a single-purpose site,” he said. “The notion is to move more information, faster, between the city and citizens. It’s as simple as that.”

Ironically, the move comes as the city makes an effort to revamp its own website.

Lita Myers, executive assistant in the mayor’s office, said the goal is to make the site easier for users to navigate, and easier for city employees to post information as part of their day-to-day routine. That will eventually mean more timely content for citizens.

“If you don’t have content for the web,” Myers said, “why have the web?”

But for Vogt, it’s not a question of any single source of information. Even the capacity of “the local paper,” he said in a news release announcing NeighborNet, “is far outstripped by the sheer volume of day-in, day-out city activity.”

So he’s looking for a cadre of volunteer “reporters” to attend city meetings and review public notices, to write down their observations and upload them to the NeighborNet website.

The reports can include the correspondent’s opinion, he said, but must treat all sides of an issue “fairly and accurately” – no ad hominem arguments, and no inflammatory language.

“Yelling at them doesn’t work,” he said. “I confess I found this out the hard way. I’m still embarrassed.”

Correspondents can upload from their computers directly to his site, through a process Vogt says will take the average person about 15 minutes to master.

What will be his measure of success?

“The test is, will enough people show up and take responsibility to report on the things that are going on in the city,” he said. “I have no idea. I’m as curious as you are to see what happens.”

Community Events, April 2014

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