Looks like the Madison Central School Educational Foundation will need to do a little more door-to-door: the Madison City Commission last night failed to pass Resolution 2693, which would have instantly increased participation in the city's electric "Step-Up" program from 15% to 100% by changing the program from opt-in to opt-out.
To review: right now, if you buy electricity from the City of Madison, you can call City Hall (256-7504) and say, "Charge me more for my juice!" They'll happily round your bill up to the nearest dollar and give the extra pennies to the MCSEF, which will use the money to provide scholarships to Madison students who go to DSU.
Supporters of the program wanted to change the program so that the city would automatically round up everyone's electric bill, and you would have to call the city to opt out. Changing the default setting from no to yes could likely result in long-term participation of over 50%; a similar program by Sioux Valley Electric has 70% participation.
However, as some of my commenters and I pointed out, that increase would come by taking advantage of inattention and guilt, not the best bases for a nice community development effort. The commission waited a week to gauge public sentiment and their own moral sense, and last night they decided the cons outweighed the pros and left the program on opt-in status.
About that public sentiment: when the city closed its online poll yesterday before the commission meeting, 986 votes had been cast: 56% in favor of the change, 44% against (as quickly and accurately reported by a faithful correspondent; good work, Anon!). That's pretty good participation for a local online poll. But on this round-up vote, the city apparently chose to round up the No votes.
I'm not ready to howl about disenfranchisement of the majority here: we all know that an online poll is far from a scientific sample of the popular will. (Then again, how scientific are our official elections?) Some folks have much easier access to the Internet than others. Some folks also have the advantage of working in places where a few of their friends are also clustered around computers and can be encouraged in a moment to cast their votes, too. The city made no promise that the poll would in any way bind its decision, so the commission was within its rights to view the online poll as just one of several instruments by which to measure public sentiment.
Still, the online poll was a bang-up idea. I imagine it got a number of citizens to visit the city website for the first time, and now that many more folks know where to find city info. Plus the city gave good follow up. Instead of letting the final results disappear into the memory hole (the way KJAM does—fix that, fellas!), the city posted the final results on the main page. The city also posted the results of the vote at the commission meeting, something we can usually find out right the next morning from the media but which the city itself doesn't officially post until it posts the minutes in next week's agenda packet.
The city should do more of this: run more polls, and include comments, so we can read not only how people are voting but why. Put up the unapproved meeting minutes right away, so we can see how every measure on the agenda fared and how the commissioners voted. Heck, maybe even get the commissioners to blog so we can hear straight from them why they make the decisions they make. Now that would be enlightening!
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