A new council committee is finding its way on a topic that, in many ways, gets to the heart of local government: citizen engagement.
Kevin Roden, Dalton Gregory and Jim Engelbrecht met as the Council Committee for Citizen Engagement for the second time this week. The two-hour discussion Tuesday afternoon came with a cadre of city employees that included many in senior management. The committee heard reports on two city initiatives and examined further those topics and issues they hope to tackle in the coming months.
Roden, who leads the committee, said in an interview Friday that he expected the committee to brief the rest of the City Council on those issues soon.
“We don’t want to start in an area if there is not interest in addressing it, or if they’d rather we worked on something else,” Roden said.
The list has about 15 topics and issues already. They include employing new data gathering and reporting techniques and examining the city’s records policies to creating different outreach efforts, including those that could open communication with people who are disenfranchised.
After Tuesday’s meeting, Engelbrecht said he realized they might want to hear from the city’s first responders, too, since the police department uses Twitter and other media tools.
At a recent Texas Municipal League conference, he learned that social media was both evolving quickly and important for city leaders to understand and use.
During Tuesday’s meeting, the committee heard a report from the planning department on neighborhood grants. The program not only helps pay for small projects that could meet a neighborhood need but also how it brings neighbors together, the staff said.
They also heard a report on EngageDenton.com, a year-old website that currently has more than 740 users. The website, created by Omaha, Neb.-based MindMixer, solicits ideas from residents and gets their feedback on key questions.
For example, back in January, February and March, the city asked users whether Denton should have a smoking ban. Depending on how the data is grouped, 60 percent to 80 percent of Engage Denton users favored such a ban.
City employee Kiersten Dieterle reminded the committee it was important that the city not ask questions for the sake of doing so. People might become frustrated if the city doesn’t pursue the things it asks about on Engage Denton.
“We need to really pay attention to what we’re guaranteeing to people,” Dieterle said.
The service with MindMixer costs about $10,000 per year, Dieterle said.
During the committee’s first meeting, the members heard a report on how current boards and commissions would be tapped in updating the city’s comprehensive plan.
During this week’s meeting, the committee asked the staff for a report soon about the policies and duties of the city’s communications team. Gregory told City Manager George Campbell that the orientation for new council members did not go into the depth he needed for him to understand that division.
All three council members expected that it would take some time before the committee would have policy recommendations. Gregory said in an interview Thursday that he expected those recommendations to ultimately include specific objectives and ways to measure citizen engagement.
The committee is expected to meet again in February.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.