By David Liebler.
The trip north on Highway 101 to the Humboldt County seat of Eureka is a gorgeous drive. Towering redwoods and green ferns line the meandering road. But for county residents who want to attend a Board of Supervisors meeting to discuss the county budget, that trip could be anything but relaxing.
It’s no wonder Humboldt County faces the same challenge many local governments do throughout the state and nation: How to get more citizens engaged in the process. This is especially important for Humboldt County’s leadership when it comes to getting input on budget priorities. Experience shows that few people attend the daytime Board of Supervisors meetings and putting on a budget meeting roadshow throughout the five supervisorial districts at night is time-consuming and has yielded little.
The answer to increasing citizen engagement in Humboldt County lay in the development of an interactive multi-site community meeting. One meeting held simultaneously in all five supervisorial districts. And thanks to the use of state-of-the-art technology, residents could see what was happening elsewhere. Now in its third year, these multi-site meetings – primarily focusing on the county budget – have resulted in a win-win-win: for county residents, supervisors and staff.
The meetings are the result of a collaborative effort between the County, Access Humboldt (the local non-profit media organization) and the County Office of Education. All three groups have brought important elements to the table in order for these meetings to successfully take place.
The County provided the content; each supervisor held a meet-and-greet in his/her own district before hosting the interactive meeting. Access Humboldt ensured the meetings could be seen live at home on the Web or later on a pre-recording. The County Office of Education provided the meeting sites, each with broadband capability. Because the program utilizes the resources and expertise from its partners, the cost to the County has been minimal.
Residents had the option of attending their local meeting – or watching it live on the Web. They could then electronically send in questions or comments. By having the meeting take place in all five districts simultaneously, residents had an opportunity to watch what was being discussed in other areas of the County. No longer does a resident living in Garberville have to drive more than an hour on a windy road to Eureka, sometimes in bad weather, to have input on county budget priorities.
The result? More interaction and interest in the county budgeting process. Humboldt is now looking for ways to use this process on other county issues. The three partners in the program are all enthusiastic about its results and potential. They are already thinking, “What next?”