This week, a city councilmember's forums became the topic of conversation. Since being elected last year, Karen Rogers has been holding formal meetings with citizens to gather input. Summaries of the meetings are posted on the city's website. Sometimes city staff are requested to attend, and the impact on staff time on one city councilmembers effort to reach out to citizens.
Before I get to my point, here are some tweets by Lakewood City Councilmember Walter Neary (and two) and open government leader Sarah Schacht. Both Walter and Sarah seem to point to a more formalized additional way for the city to encourage input from citizens.
I think Roger's has hit on something important, but she might be going about it wrong. Granted, I haven actually attended one of these meetings, I've only read summaries and of course the coverage in the Olympian. But, they seem to point to the need for more input in city matters. Or, just public matters in general.
By the way, I've pointed out in the past that Rogers has a decent time getting public input.
So, the city might just use the model created by Rogers and formalize it. Rotate the city councilmembers that attend, but with no more than three at a time (to prevent a quorum). Councilmembers already have several regional intergovernmental commitments that mean they attend meetings above and beyond regular business. One more meeting a quarter with citizens, with a mix between citizen and city generated topics, wouldn't be that hard.
What they also might think about doing is formalizing a new so-called "blog policy" (like the one Seattle has) to ease the process of city councilmembers posting on the city's website.
But, that isn't really what I am interested in seeing, I think there needs to be a whole new organization focussed on putting on public forums of general civic interest. Something like a city club. Boy, I like this topic, don't I?
Anyway, there are a lot of example out there locally, Tacoma, Portland, Eugene, Lakewood United, and North Mason (County) Voice. Each of these organizations have a central role of holding forums on generally civic topics. Some, like the Seattle City Club, also have other projects like a living Voters Guide.
So, why haven't these sort of efforts taken hold in Olympia?
I would say because most of the positive political force in Olympia is focussed for or against a particular issue. Oly2012, Olympia Capitol Park, and other organizations are focussed on their own goals, not necessarily providing an open forum. As they should be.
It also might be, since we are a capital city, that people with this sort of thing in their DNA and who live locally are focussed on statewide issues, not necessarily on the local civic landscape.
But, there seems to be the pieces you could put together to organize a city club like organization. The League of Women Voters has a local chapter, but I honestly don't hear much from them (I have to make an effort to hear anything from them). There is also SPEECH, which seems to have a general forum role, at least in the environmental sense.
I could could also see how other tangential organizations like the Coalition of Neighborhoods and the Friends of the Olympia Library could play a role.
So, what is standing in the way?
What can we do to get this done?