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City wants to get citizens engaged

New coordinator position created to facilitate process


In the early months of 2014, citizen outreach has been a priority at West Linn City Hall — highlighted in both the city council goals and Mayor John Kovash’s “State of the City” speech.

At the center of the effort are two new initiatives: a “Citizen Engagement 2020” project and a Transportation Systems Plan outreach effort, both of which were detailed Monday at a city council work session.

Wyatt

“Some things are being done differently,” Assistant City Manager Kirsten Wyatt said. “We’re trying to engage people early and create a broader base of community knowledge.”

Details about the two projects came on the heels of a presentation from Portland-based firm DHM Research, which conducted the city’s recent communications survey at the end of 2013. According to Ari Wubbold, an associate at DHM, 76 percent of those surveyed were either “very” or “somewhat” satisfied with how the city communicated with the public.

Younger residents were generally more satisfied than older residents, and the survey found that the city’s website was a more popular resource than ever before. Yet, on certain levels, the survey found room for growth.

Satisfaction levels hovered closer to 50 percent when it came to residents understanding how community input was utilized by the government, and what decisions could be influenced by the public. Wubbold said those numbers were not out of the ordinary, but ideally would be higher.

Both the Transportation Systems Plan outreach and Citizen Engagement 2020 look to address that issue, among others, as the city moves forward in 2014.

Updating the city’s Transportation Systems Plan in search of new economic development opportunities stands as another of the city council’s primary goals for this year, and Wyatt said the first step is engaging the public on a more personal level with in-home meetings.

“We’re calling them ‘house parties’ because we want them to be fun and interesting,” Wyatt said. “It’s an opportunity to sit down in a casual setting and talk about issues that could affect your neighbors.”

Wyatt said she recently had a “trial run” party at her own home with Associate Planner Zach Pelz in attendance. She encouraged the city council to host parties of their own in the coming months, before the more formal outreach efforts regarding transportation begin in the summer and fall.

“The goal is to, on a small level — house by house — get people engaged,” Wyatt said. “It was fun, and the neighbors said they learned things they never thought of before.”

The outreach effort has also extended to the city’s Youth Leadership Academy, which will focus one of its sessions on transportation and ask students to track their walking, biking and driving mileage to better understand how they travel around West Linn.

To keep schools in the loop about the transportation plan, Pelz is working to meet with parent-teacher organizations at all of the local primary schools.

The city’s broader outreach effort, Citizen Engagement 2020, is also in its early stages of development as the city looks to fill a new position — citizen engagement coordinator. The full-time position involves planning and organizing citizen engagement while promoting general awareness and understanding of city services, policies and projects.

“I think we’re very close to hiring someone,” Wyatt said. “We’ll hopefully have them by March.”

In the meantime, city staff will also work on a request for proposal for the formal development of a citizen engagement plan. A consultant should be hired later in the spring, Wyatt said.

As the city continues its work on the plan, virtual outreach will be a priority. A new website, westlinnideas.com, has been set up to allow citizens to submit online feedback and share ideas. In future land use processes, the city will also implement a “parallel process” approach, which involves accepting and encouraging feedback via email or even Skype video calls from those who cannot attend public hearings or work sessions.

“Running a parallel process is going to take more work,” Wyatt said. “But it will also help invite more of the community in.”

Some residents aren’t so sure about that, claiming the new engagement plan will phase out the voices of neighborhood associations. Wyatt said that is not the case.

“The only thing we’re working on is an RFP to take the findings from the survey and put them into a communications plan,” Wyatt said. “Some people are getting a little too far ahead of themselves and they’re imagining things that aren’t happening.”

The city has planned quarterly status reports on how these new initiatives are panning out, and the council was encouraged by what it heard Monday.

“We’re going to do better,” Kovash said. “And there are places we heard tonight where we can do better.”


By Patrick Malee
Reporter
503-636-1281 ex
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