Whether it’s a rezoning, changes to affordable housing rules or current plans to redevelop downtown, big decisions in Davidson have historically triggered considerable resident input.
And that’s the way it should be, town leaders said recently with the introduction of Open Town Hall, an online platform designed to engage residents in virtual conversations. Through a tab on its website, the town can guide discussion on Davidson’s future, solicit ideas for possible projects and get a feel for public opinion on timely issues.
Peak Democracy Inc., a Berkeley, Calif.-based company, developed the online platform. More than 100 government agencies in the United States, Canada and Australia are using Open Town Hall, including the Village of Pinehurst.
It’s no coincidence that Davidson launched the platform last week with a virtual discussion on the information flow between the town and its residents.
“Since we have such an engaged citizenry and so many people are online, we want them to be part of the decision-making process using this new system,” said Town Manager Leamon Brice. “We know people are extremely busy and cannot always attend meetings, so this is an incredibly effective way to educate citizens and empower them to participate in town decisions from their own device when it’s convenient for them.”
The first Open Town Hall topic is: “How can the Town of Davidson better communicate with you?” A click on the Open Town Hall tab takes the user to a page listing the town’s various forms of communication, including the website (townofdavidson.org), “eCrier” emails, Facebook, Twitter and a quarterly newsletter mailed to residents.
A link from that page sends the user to survey with seven questions, including: “What kind of information do you want to receive from the Town of Davidson?” Survey takers have a choice of whether to answer the questions online or print them.
“We really want make sure that we communicate with all of our citizens on all different levels through all different channels,” the town’s public information officer, Cristina Shaul, told town board members when introducing Open Town Hall on Oct. 13.
Commissioner Jim Fuller pointed to Shaul as a key to linking residents and government. Larger north Mecklenburg neighbors Huntersville and Cornelius, for example, don’t employ full-time communications professionals.
“One way we reach people in the community is by having a public information officer who is smart, talented, but is always upbeat and reaches out to people,” Fuller said.
Davidson is also the only one of the three north Mecklenburg municipalities to stream live video of its town board meetings, then archive the broadcasts for future viewing.
“We need to have more (resident) participation, even if it is via live stream or by watching the video after the fact,” Shaul said. “We recognize that not everyone is able to attend night meetings at Town Hall, and I’m so pleased that we were able to make this live stream process happen. It’s really important that citizens are aware of what is going on in town, and this is another way to promote town business.”
John Deem is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Log on to townofdavidson.org and click on the “Open Town Hall - Join the Conversation” tab at the right of the page.