January 23, 2015
Dear Mayor and Members of Council,
As you may know, Open Boulder is a new community organization in Boulder with a goal of increasing public participation in local government decisions. On the occasion of your annual retreat, we would like to provide some brief input on matters of interest to our members.
First, we are pleased that you are partnering with Code for America to create tools that will make it easier for our community to interact with you on important policy matters. By way of comparison, the City of Raleigh in its partnership with Code for America has created its acclaimed “Open Raleigh” initiative. We thus encourage the City to continue to use innovative tools to facilitate public engagement.
We were disappointed, however, by the last-minute addition to the Council agenda this week regarding building height limits. Open Boulder is still studying the substance of the issue and has not yet taken a formal position. We would note though that it was difficult for people, even those with strong interest, to participate in the discussion when they had insufficient notice of the agenda item. When this sort of thing happens it is difficult to send Council an informed last-minute email about the topic, much less show up for the meeting. Because it was a last-minute addition, the agenda item was discussed starting around 10 p.m. Even someone following the meeting on television or online would have had a hard time participating at that hour. Working people and people with families should be a part of these important conversations.
This is the sort of thing Open Boulder cares deeply about, and will be encouraging municipal government to avoid. The details of when and how Council debates an issue may seem like an unlikely matter to cause grave consequences, but we believe the barriers to participation that have arisen over the years – and late, insufficiently noticed agenda items are but one example – have contributed to a growing distrust of local government that we can ill afford.
As you head into your retreat this weekend, please keep in mind that the volume of work the Council chooses to take on has a direct impact on public participation. Heavy agenda schedules make it hard for ordinary people to be part of the discussion, resulting in community conversations that are dominated by the same people week after week. We ask that the Council work plan for 2015 facilitate, rather than undermine, public participation in local governance, with consideration for the thousands of people with very busy lives yet interest in the future of their city.
On behalf of Open Boulder’s members and officers, thank you for your service to our community.