Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Transparency and Communication

Now that the preliminary election for Mayor is over, we've reached the end of the beginning of this election cycle. As we ponder the meaning of low turnout --is it contentment? is it apathy?-- I wonder why we can't do a better job of notifying the voters that the election is coming up.

Yes, I know the signs and the enthusiastic signholders were a dead giveaway. I know there was a debate. I know the Daily News and the Current have been writing about it. I know Newburyport blogger Mary Baker at www.marybakerart.com/newburyport has been performing yeowoman's work encouraging participation.

But I also know that many voters I've talked to as I walk around Ward 4 weren't quite sure when the preliminary was being held.

Maybe they saw the names on the signs but figured it was a ways away. Maybe they were part of the crowd that was turned away from the debate at the Firehouse after the capacity of 195 was reached; maybe they were Comcast customers who found the taped version of the debate incredibly hard to hear with garbled audio. Maybe they don't get the Daily News or choose to leave the free Current on their doorsteps for weeks. Maybe they don't have access to the internet to look these things up.

Many local governments in Massachusetts publicize the date of upcoming elections with signs in crosswalks and banners proudly displayed. Why can't we do that? Maybe we'd get a few more voters.

With those post-preliminary thoughts behind me, I offer a few modest suggestions.

Transparency and Communication

Many citizens are disconnected from their local government, not for lack of interest on their part but because our municipal systems are not set up to keep citizens informed nor are these systems designed to solicit citizens input.

For example, if you want to look up the Fiscal Year 2007 budget, I invite you to look at the City’s website at www.cityofnewburyport.com where you won’t find it (although several months ago I did find the FY 04 budget) or you may go to the Newburyport Public Library where you will find one copy in the 2nd floor reference section. Or you can go to City Hall if you can remember which night it's open late (that would be Thursday.)

In this day and age, a useful and functioning website is a necessary component of good customer service. Good customer service and an informed public are vital for good governance.

Building a more functional website is important and not necessarily more expensive than what we’re paying already. In fact it might save us money while providing a better customer/citizen experience through on-line transactions. In fact, earlier in 2007, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts laid out how to do it in a manual called A Recipe for Success Building a Citizen-Centric Website with a specific outline for how to make the transition.

While some progress is being made with the City's website at the City Clerk's page and the Office of Planning and Development's page, we need to do more. Check out these websites in large and small communities and you will get a sense of what we ought to have in Newburyport.

- Boston: http://cityofboston.gov/

- Cambridge: http://www.cambridgema.gov/index.cfm

- Marlborough: http://www.marlborough-ma.gov/Home/

- Newton: http://www.ci.newton.ma.us/

- Shrewsbury: http://www.shrewsbury-ma.gov/

- Somerville: http://www/ci.somerville.ma.us

- Weymouth: http://www.weymouth.ma.us/

- Tolland: http://tolland-ma.gov

In order to have faith in our local government and our local leadership, citizens need access to information. The improved website will move us toward that goal.

We also need better communication, back and forth between the public and elected officials. If am elected to represent the people of Ward 4 on the City Council, I pledge to hold at least one community meeting each month in places that are accessible to everyone in the Ward especially seniors. I also pledge to communicate with all residents in Ward 4 on a monthly basis either through email, my website, or through regular mail if a voter doesn’t have internet access. If elected, you’ll have my cell phone number and my email address and you will be encouraged to communicate with me on all matters great and small.

2 comments:

Ruth Allen said...

Hello Ed,

Perhaps we should hang banners on the Fuller Field fence and at Atkinson Common. People seem to notice those! Something pithy like, "no vote, no
voice." With so much ahead of us, I'm amazed at the lack of interest in the election. Of course, I'm STILL blaming myself for inflicting Ed King on us in the 70's, when I neglected to vote in the gubernatorial primary. I learned MY lesson!

Tom Salemi said...

In addition to that perhaps we could turn on parking ban lights on Election Day. I suspect 99% of the people will realize there's no ban when there's no snow. As for the other 1%, well, they won't make the same mistake twice.