Transparency is here. Now, it’s time for the next step: accessibility.
There’s no question Farmington is transparent. Agendas and plans are posted online. We comply with the Open Meetings Act and meet ADA requirements. City business is discussed openly and voted on at designated meetings.
This is great. But there is more we can do. If election 2020 has taught us anything, it is that people are demanding to have their voices heard — and that’s a good thing. Civic engagement means that people care.
And we are making strides. When I was first elected, I used to post Council meeting writeups on Facebook. Our Clerk, when appointed, took the idea of meeting recaps and ran with it, using the hashtag #RespectfullySubmitted. Now meeting updates on Facebook are part of the system. The City’s Facebook page also posts public safety notices, upcoming events, and meeting agendas. You can pay water bills and property taxes online, and even file a police report from your phone or computer. This is progress.
Our next step is making it easy for people to add “participating in local government” to their normal routine.
Marketing principles say it takes seven “touches” before a person takes action. In our case, it means making sure people hear, multiple times and multiples ways, about how they can become involved and help shape the outcome — not hear about a decision right as it’s about to be voted on.
Northville does a great job of this. They send an e-newsletter every week with dates/times for upcoming meetings, community updates, and a City Hall recap. If you subscribe to their email list, you get Northville meeting notices in your inbox all the time.
Farmington can achieve this, too. What it would take is for City Council to invest the resources necessary to make it happen.
I think this would be a valuable service and a good use of taxpayer dollars. After all, government is supposed to be for and by the people. We should make it easy to stay in the loop so you know how to participate.
Inclusive government also means removing barriers to involvement for anyone who wants to participate. It’s about making it easy. I’ve championed this as a Council member by getting public comment added to the beginning of the agenda, as well as the end, so people can give input before a decision is made.
Another example is remote public comment. During the pandemic shutdowns, members of the public were able to log onto virtual Council meetings and speak at public comment via Zoom or phone.
That’s one “new normal” that I’d like to continue. That way, we can be inclusive of people who can’t realistically show up for in-person meetings.
Think people with health or mobility issues. Those who lack transportation. Or parents for whom 7pm is time to put the kids to bed — not time to drag the kids to a Council meeting or spend money on a sitter so they can go talk for 3 minutes about the speeding on their street.
Transparency is posting the budget or the meeting agenda. Accessibility is making sure everyone can truly, realistically participate in shaping Farmington’s future.
Our city is stronger when we remove barriers to civic engagement so we’re all able to take part.