Tuesday, Jan. 29 2013 12:18PM
EngageLS, another way to reach City Hall
By Russ Pulley
Lee’s Summit city officials have a new webpage for connecting with residents: EngageLS.net.
You can go to the site, register and login, and make suggestions for what you’d like to see happen in the city. And you can vote if you like someone else’s idea.
“Whatever ideas people have they can post them there,” said Sharon Quigley, assistant to the city manager.
To see the site visit: http://engagels.net/ideas.
It was given a recent trial run during the city’s Capital Improvement Project Committee hearings, while that ad-hoc City Council committee sought public opinions on what roads or other needs the city should borrow money to complete. The council on Jan. 17 heard a city staff report on the tool.
Now it’s live waiting for your responses.
Quigley said that because Lee’s Summit has a large population of commuting residents, EngageLS is a means for reaching them.
“Maybe they don’t have time to go to meetings, or don’t want to go to a meeting,” Quigley said.
Staff can also post videos, other information, on the page for residents.
She said it’s a means to reach beyond the hundred people or so who are consistently involved with City Hall and letting their opinions be known.
The site would be monitored by city staff daily and “listeners” would be assigned for specific topics, for example Michael Park, city traffic engineer, could be tasked to be attentive to comments about traffic signals and related issues.
The site has some safeguards to encourage polite discussion:
• Filters to help prevent in appropriate language
• Registration is required to use the site
• The number of responses to a comment is limited
“You can only go back and forth a couple of times,” Quigley said.
She said during the “soft launch” used for discussing recent proposals for a bond election the site had 98 users, with 37 providing comments on the capital projects.
Council members suggested several topics they’d like to have people comment on at the site.
Those included topics included the proposed Price Chopper at U.S. 50 and Todd George Parkway, using tax-increment financing for some improvements, or the Walmart at Missouri 150 and Market Street, the city landfill, household hazardous waste disposal and recycling.
Council members expressed some concern that EngageLS could become dominated by non-residents if a controversial subject pops up.
An example of that was when the city was working on it dangerous dog ordinance, which caught the attention of pit bull owners from far away.
Councilmember Ed Cockrell said a desire to hear from more citizens is always a good thing but “We’re moving toward participatory democracy... with council members chasing votes.”
He cautioned that leaders need to take information the site in perspective, as often more negative comments are made online.
“I can make two phone calls after this meeting and get 10,000 comments on Wal-Mart,” Cockrell said.
He said from his perspective it is important that when people are asked to register on the site to include an address or at least a zip code.
Councilmember David Mosby said technology has raced along since the first personal computers were introduced, with his telephone now having more power than computers in the early space program.
“As much as we’re scared of technology and we don’t understand it, it’s something we have to embrace,” Mosby said. “It we get down the road and it is dysfunctional, we can react at that time.”
City Manager Steve Arbo said the city’s website has reduced the number of calls from the public because there is so much information available online, where they also can watch recordings of many city meetings.
Quigley said the city staff realizes that only certain segments of population will be likely to use EngageLS, such as younger residents.
“This is not a movement to take place of public meetings, or contact with city council members or contact with city staff, Quigley said.