Our view: Communication breakdown

A Front Range municipality has a communication problem.

Residents have been complaining that the community’s leaders haven’t been keeping its citizenry informed of things happening in the local government — the great events the town sponsors, decisions elected officials are making and the exciting commercial developments in the pipeline.

Did you guess Wellington? If so, you’re half right.

Turns out the communication “problem” is so dire in Louisville, a Boulder County community a few miles south, that the mayor there is spending $10,000 on a special task force composed of marketers and businessmen that will “identify funding and staffing needs to help get the public more involved in city business.”

As a frame of reference, remember that Louisville has a population of 18,000 with a median family income of $101,353, a 32,000 square foot library, 27 parks, and budget revenues of $40 million that include a yearly street paving budget of $1.25 million. (Wellington has 6,400 residents and budget revenues of about $12 million.) Louisville is ranked No. 2 on Money magazine’s list of “50 Best Places to Live in America” and named by Frommer’s as one of the 100 best places in America to raise a family.

To communicate with its citizenry, Louisville city government currently uses:
• A city owned and operated cable TV channel that reaches 12,000 homes and broadcasts all council and planning commission meetings, backfilled 24/7 with community-event announcements. Everything broadcast on the city’s cable channel can be video streamed online and council meetings are available on DVD.
• A nifty process for anyone — citizen or not — to access e-mails sent to, from and between council members.
• A city-run online events calendar, where all events involving more than 100 people in attendance are required to post. All other city-sponsored events and meetings are posted as well.
• An e-mail newsletter that anyone can sign up for that sends city council summaries, meeting agendas, study session summaries and links to meeting materials.
• An eight-page community update newsletter detailing city happenings delivered to every mailing address in town three times each year with archives available online.
• Inserts in the monthly water bill detailing upcoming city meetings and community events.
• A 60-page Parks & Recreation and Senior Center catalog delivered to every address in town three times per year.
• Monthly Meet the Mayor roundtable meetings at the local library.
• Multiple Facebook and Twitter accounts orchestrated by various city departments, boards and commissions.

Louisville is also served by a daily newspaper (Boulder Daily Camera) that covers news and events practically daily in print and online. And there’s a 100-year-old weekly newspaper (Hometown Weekly) distributed door-to-door to every home and features extensive coverage of every city council and planning commission meeting.

The point?

While communicating with a constituency can be problematic, there’s a good chance that it’ll always be a problem, regardless of media (flyers, cable TV, e-mails), broadcast method (bullhorn, plane-towed banner, Morse code) or frequency (every day, every month, once-a-year). Because, unless someone’s seeking a zoning change to build a lead smelter plant next door, city business doesn’t matter to most folks. That’s human nature.

So it was a surprise for us to see one of the Wellington mayoral candidates saying she wants to cozy up to the Fort Collins daily newspaper, a newspaper that has minimal reach in Wellington, has never covered a trustees meeting (that we know of), has never had an office in Wellington and has never belonged to the chamber of commerce.

Sure, Wellington can do better at updating its website (BTW how many people visit the town’s website?) and providing a little more information in water bills in the form of an update on outcomes of recent town meetings.

But the town of Wellington also needs to be realistic about how much it can afford and, more importantly, what communication is already available but just being ignored.

Because, you see, Louisville is a shining example that there’s never enough.

About the high school
Last month’s Colorado Downtown, Inc. community forums revealed a strong sentiment among residents for a high school in Wellington. Wellington’s high school closed in 1964, and when it did the lifeblood of our community went south into Fort Collins.
We need a high school in Wellington, but our advice to Wellington’s next mayor is this: Don’t beg Poudre School District while lobbying for one. Do a sweep option to the left. Maybe even the Statue of Liberty.

For starters, how about recruiting a charter high school using land acquired by the city but donated to the school? Our new charter school could emphasize an agricultural or vocational curriculum and could provide Wellington and surrounding area students with flexible learning opportunities closer to home.

Colorado school districts are required to reasonably accommodate charter schools (by judging the school on its merits during the application process, with the potential for the charter school to appeal denials to the state), so there’s no sense in continuing to get the cold shoulder from HQ central in Fort Collins. Let’s go out and make it happen on our own.

Heck, we could even recruit a mega church to build a school. They’d need to be nonsectarian to receive public funds, but there are lots of examples of schools that do just fine as private institutions. (And there’s a Douglas County School District court case winding its way through the system that will settle whether districts can fund parochial schools.) There are dozens of alt-rock mega churches along the Front Range raking in the dough and bursting at the seams with parishioners and school-age kids ready to learn.


Editor’s Note: The print edition of the North Forty News incorrectly attributed the suggestion of the town developing a closer relationship with the Fort Collins daily newspaper to mayoral candidate Jack Brinkhoff. It was instead stated by mayoral candidate Arlene Schiffman in a response to a question asked of her by the Wellington Chamber of Commerce.

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