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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Madison Uses Website for Citizen Participation

...oh, so that's what that Internet thingy is for!

The City of Madison continues to leap courageously into the 21st century... no, really, this time I mean it. At Monday night's commission meeting, our leaders tabled a proposal to switch participation in the municipal electric "round up" billing program from opt-in to opt-out. The commission felt it needed to hear more public input on the proposal.

To get that input, in addition to dropping by the 10 a.m. think tank at Gary's Bakery, the city has placed a poll on its website, right on the front page. (Tally as of 09.17 07:43 CDT: 59% in favor, 41% against, 76 votes total.)

I am not the most avid monitor of what's happening on the city's website, but this is the first tiny inkling of genuine interactivity that I have ever seen on any of our official websites. For all the visual whizbangery some of our official websites have been able to muster, most of our websites—Lake County, Chamber of Commerce, LAIC, the town marketing website—are mostly dead to the users: fair amounts of information, contact forms that might or might not get a response, a search box on the Chamber site, but no way for citizens to put their authentic mark on the websites that belong to them.

Maybe that's why this blog keeps beating all of those official Madison websites in Alexa rankings: love it or hate it, you make this blog really happen with the (mostly) civil conversation that takes place in the comments. That sort of user interaction, citizen participation, is the real power of the Internet, power every public agency should take advantage of.

One Yes/No poll isn't much, but in a mostly Web 1.0 wasteland, a little "Hey, what do you think?" online from our elected officials is a small and encouraging step toward making the Web a real town hall.

Now, City of Madison, how about setting up a blog or an official forum and inviting public comments? I'll even design it for you....


  1. I never could understand the Madison voters not being for this round-up in the first place. We rural people have it in place, and the Daily Leader has articles stating what good things these extra pennies are doing in our community. Round-up is easy, painless, and a wonderfully worthwhile way to help others.

  2. The difference is the Sioux Valley Round Up program gives a chance for all sorts of organizations to get some funding. This would benefit only one. And truthfully, why should the city assume I want to contribute? Than you have to look cheap by opting out. jh

  3. Because the current program only has about a 15% participation rate, just a handful of MHS grads get scholarships and they're limited to DSU. By making it automatic with an easy opt-out, the goal of all MHS grads receiving a scholarship to any state university can be met. These are our kids, our future and if we can help them with our pennies, let's do it. Rod G

  4. pennypincher9/17/2008 8:29 AM

    From what I understand, it will only help those that attend DSU. I just got fundraiser materials from the public school. If I am going to donate my pennies, it will be the public schools, not a college.

    If this money would help other programs, maybe.

  5. Rod, It's sounds nice, but it's not the city's role to half mandate participation. There are many other things the community needs, so if it's an opt out, others should be given a chance for this funding, such as the women's shelter and the list goes on. I do not like being half forced to give. That's not giving. It's taking. jh

  6. In the past year we voted for the new pool, our electric rates went up, and now this. I'm sorry, but I have to pass. A penny here and a penny there adds up and it is time this stops.

  7. I think the program should be opened up to all local organizations like the Sioux Valley Program, even if it remains opt in. Why should only one organization be the recipient of funds through a city conduit? I think that's why the SV program has such support regardless of theirs being an opt out program. Under those circumstances I would be much more supportive of the program, and even suggest more than rounding up be an option. An option of a dollar or two added to the bill and give the donor their choice of recipient. jh

  8. Rod, perhaps the pennnies will
    help pave the GRAVEL streets in
    this town.
    Can you believe we're doing all these
    wonderful things but yet we have streets in Madison that are still gravel.

  9. jh...This proposal appears to be a no-brainer. Anyone who doesn't want their utility bill rounded up can either call the City Finance Office or write a note with their check if they want to opt out of participating, starting in January.

    The Madison Central School Education Foundation wants this to be as simple and easy as possible for anyone who is struggling, on a fixed income or disapproves. Right now, only 15% have signed up to participate after five years of promoting the program, so even if 40% or 50% decide to participate, it will have a very positive financial impact on the MCSEF Scholarship Program.

    Most people, when given the option, would probably not write a check for $6 a year because it may not seem substantial, but if their utility bill was rounded up by 50-cents a month and it was used to assist all college-bound MHS grads, and if 50% of Madison folks were involved, it becomes large group dollars that can expand scholarship opportunities.

    There are many, many groups receiving assistance now through the United Way and their annual fund drive, but I admire your idea for rounding up, adding an extra dollar and expanding the recipients. Currently, the City Resolution is only calling for rounding up to the next whole dollar. Most folks will average about $6 a year and 100% of those added dollars will support MHS grads as they prepare for college.

    It is a small price for huge benefits to our kids, and a very simple process for those who do not wish to participate starting in January. Nobody will be forced to give if they don't want to or can't afford to participate. Rod G

  10. Rod, what about our gravel streets!

  11. Even without an increase in the rate, other local organizations should have a chance to receive money that comes from this source. Mayor Hexom is right: donation programs should not assume participation. jh

  12. no the no brainer is that they should not just automatically enroll everyone. that is communism or at least socialism. This round up is a noble idea but automatically enrolling everyone is B.S. I shouldn't have to take time to call someone or write someone to then be able to opt out. If the scholarships were for any state school and were evenly distributed not just teachers pets as the way it has always been and will continue to be. thans but no thanks comrades in the city department!!!

  13. "Right now, only 15% have signed up to participate after five years of promoting the program, so even if 40% or 50% decide to participate, it will have a very positive financial impact on the MCSEF Scholarship Program."

    After five years of promoting the program, don't you think if 40-50% wanted to participate, they would have signed up by now?

    Since people who desire to round-up already have and have had ample opportunity over the last five years to do so, it sounds to me like they are trying to catch people who may not be paying attention or not to mention, create more social pressure to influence participation.

    This may be a bad analogy, but it's like saying that every citizen in the town of Madison is going to receive and be billed for 3 boxes of Girl Scout cookies unless they call in.

    It's not the amount of money, the cause, or the round-up program itself - it's just the blanket participation requirement that makes it all so difficult to support.

  14. Anon 3:25

    Why has it worked so well for decades in the rural sector at a constant 70% partipation rate? Those are conservative farmers for the most part and while it does reach several different groups, they deal with thousands more members and much larger dollars than Madison little program.

    One question for jh 9:42am, Which rate do you think is increasing? The only thing that might happen is that your current bill for electric, water and sewer will simply be rounded up. If your bill is $39.70, the City will round it up to $40.00 and give the 30-cents to the Foundation for scholarships.

    This isn't a tax and it is strictly voluntary with what sounds like an easy method to opt out of rounding up. If 70% of rural cooperative members continue to participate our community probably will do the same.

  15. Madison has an opportunity to be true leaders as no other Municipal Electric currently does this in South Dakota. Other communities like Brookings are watching to see if we will be visionary on Monday night.

  16. I was suggesting that if this were opt in and various civic groups be recipients I would do more than round up, but add a dollar or two. With only one group and opt out it's an ethical question if the ends justify the means. Much more important is for government to show the highest ethical standards. jh


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