Committee of the Whole:
Focuses on Cultivating Positive Public Engagement
COOK COUNTY, MINNESOTA - January 20, 2019 (LSN) At the Tuesday, Jan 15 Committee of the Whole Meeting, the Board and Administration held a working session facilitated by Valerie Marasco, Director of Emergency Management & Public Information, dedicated to improving public engagement and communication of County information. A source of frustration identified by both the community and the Board is the perceived lack of two-way communication and ability to answer questions or give feedback within the current format of Board Meetings. It is a priority of Cook County to be responsive to the public and values citizen input. To support this goal, participants discussed a variety of potential tools that can be implemented in 2019 to help cultivate meaningful productive public engagement. There was support from the Board to further explore some, or all, of the following mechanisms:
· Commissioner follow-up with individuals on questions received during public comment period. There is a need to capture presenter name and contact information, possibly through a sign-in sheet and to provide Board with copy of materials/record or concern presented (preferably prior so they can prepare information). Commissioners all stated commitment to following up with constituents if a consistent process is developed. This information could also be included in Board Summaries and to staff for information.
· As not everyone is able to attend, or comfortable with speaking at, Public Comment – the concept of written, and an online version, of a comment card to ask questions was explored. These questions could be addressed during the Commissioner Concern section of meetings as well as Q&A posted to the County website.
· Regular weekly County column “County Connect” in the newspaper to deliver initiative and service information. A schedule would be developed to include Board & General government issues, Public Health & Human Services, Public Safety & Transportation. These will be authored by various Departments, reviewed by the Communications Committee and coordinated with the paper by the Public Information Office.
· Broaden public information/data sections of website to include responses to public comment and other requests – e.g. Make public data requests* available to all online when received and responded to (*any that are public data, not confidential or under investigation, etc.)
· More regular Departmental presentations to Board at Committee of the Whole Meetings to inform Board of current work, need for funding and Department updates/priorities.
· Conducting a statistically valid citizen satisfaction survey through a third-party professional firm (such as Ipsos Reid or similar) was discussed to gather information on how community prefers to receive communications from or engage with their County, as well as ranking priorities and concerns, quality of life, value for tax dollars etc., as a baseline and regular measurement tool for the Board. This should be done at regular intervals, i.e. every two years, etc. Proposals and more information would need to be gathered for consideration.
· Public forums or town hall meetings to allow for more two-way face to face communication between public and the Board. The frequency (quarterly or semi-annually) and style of meetings was discussed as well as hosting them in different parts of the county, i.e. up the trail, west end, east end and not just at the Courthouse. These meetings would potentially include a brief presentation from the County and a moderated Q&A session.
The Board expressed interest in seeing the first one held in early 2019 and seeing how they go. Schedule of these meetings will need to take into consideration other topic specific meetings that are slated for 2019, including:
· Jail Study – Q1, date TBD
· Transportation Management Plan w ARDC – date TBD
· Equalizations - April
· County Road 45 Project - expected expected this summer when more seasonal property owners are available date TBD
· 5th Ave. W. Project meeting expected this spring, date TBD
· Short-term Rental, date TBD
· Budget (August – September)
Finally, the Board discussed the concept of, along with next steps, of adopting the Speak Your Peace Civility Project principles as ground rules for public meetings to cultivate meaningful and productive public engagement. Whether Cook County adopts SYP or similar ground rules, they should build a healthy environment for dialogue and discourage bullying behavior, but still allow for freedom of speech and opinion.
These options and a recommendation for implementation will be brought back to the upcoming Tuesday, Jan 22, 2019 regular Board of Commissioners Meeting for further discussion and action.
Full details of Board and Committee of the whole Meetings are available through video footage, Agendas and Minutes at www.co.cook.mn.us or through the County’s YouTube Channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/CookCountyMN
All County meetings are open to the public.