NeighborNet site for activists launched
June 9, 2008 · Updated 4:17 PM
Dennis Vogt, by his own admission, didnt get involved.
Not that he didnt have opinions on the issues of the day in fact, hed come to be fed up with island growth, and skeptical about city governments ability to control it.
But it was a draft of the citys Non-Motorized Transportation Plan which a neighbor noticed showed a pedestrian trail crossing Vogts 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 didnt 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. Its chaotic. Its very difficult for a citizen to penetrate whats 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 Lets 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 wont sell advertising.
It really is a single-purpose site, he said. The notion is to move more information, faster, between the city and citizens. Its 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 mayors 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 dont have content for the web, Myers said, why have the web?
But for Vogt, its 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 hes 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 correspondents 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 doesnt work, he said. I confess I found this out the hard way. Im 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. Im as curious as you are to see what happens.