Dee DuMont: City's Web site is key to communications
October 15, 2009 · 5:13 PM
The most positive change for our community will begin with open, honest, fair, two-way communication that is equally accessible to all island citizens.
What our community needs is a de facto New England style “town meeting” that will work in the 21st century for our population of 23,000.
During the primary election, I proposed that our city begin more fully using the Internet to allow for greatly increased communication between city government and citizens.
I even met with current city manager, Mark Dombroski, to discuss using the city’s web capacity to achieve complete and accurate exchange of information between the city and the public.
To my surprise and delight, I recently learned that a small group of IT-savvy volunteers working at the Bainbridge Island Civic League are developing a grass-roots effort to make this concept a reality. Their Web site will track all of the issues being considered by the city and will make it possible for everyone to be aware of what is going on, not just the insiders.
It will provide live and on-line town hall forums for full citizen discussion of policy and spending proposals. It will also have the capacity to handle regular straw-polling of citizens, so that those in government can receive real-time feedback on what their constituents are thinking.
The Bainbridge Daily project, which will be available to every household on the island, is aimed at reviving the rich tradition of civic journalism we had when Walt Woodward edited the Bainbridge Review.
I believe this kind of project will enable City Hall to cultivate and use the vast wealth of citizen expertise for the benefit of the whole community, and it will make news about what’s going on in city government easy to access for the island’s busy population.
My first proposal is that the city and the business community both work to promote the Bainbridge Daily citizen initiative and all others like it. This can be done with announcements in utility bills, Web addresses posted on large reader boards, information on the project in newsletters generated from all island organizations, and articles about it in the press.
I do appreciate that not all Island citizens are computer literate, and that this plan has the potential of leaving them out. However, I believe that this issue can be resolved with the use of volunteers with computers being made available on a regular basis at public venues, such as the island's senior center, senior residential building complexes or the library. In addition, the information generated on-line could be easily printed out and posted daily in high-traffic public locations.
My second proposal in support of increased communication is to have some council meetings where there is a time-limited give-and-take discussion between the council and the public.
Rather than the current format where a member of the public merely makes a one-way comment to the council, at these select meetings the council would be able to respond with either additional questions or with a reply, as it does now to members of the administration at City Hall.
I realize that this council format will require more time, but the benefit of having a true interaction with constituents is priceless.
My final proposal for better communication is that the city put at least two projects up for a direct vote of the public in an election in early 2010. While I understand that there is a cost to running an election, it is my belief that the acrimony caused by 1) the failure to open Hildebrand Lane to Ericksen Avenue and 2) the current, far-reaching proposal to re-do Winslow Way have divided our community.
I supported a vote on the latter as early as 2005, and I believe that once our educated public is allowed to have their vote on these matters and there is a democratic decision made, the current divisiveness will begin to dissolve. As to the cost of ballot voting, I think that we have spent money far in excess on consultants. I believe that the public needs a chance to give its advice on these major expenditures.
Clear, honest communication between the city government and the public it serves will have a most positive affect on our community.