I am not a politician (or at least I wasn't one until very recently!) and I ran for office to make a difference for our community. As a businesswoman, a big part of how I look at how things are going is performance evaluations. So, as a voter you probably are used to hearing glowing back-patting from politicians but that is not what you will find on my blog. This does feel like a bit of a risk, but now that I am in office (as promised in my campaign) I intend to do a series of quarterly performance reviews to give my personal opinion on how we are doing in meeting the promises and objectives outlined in the campaign. While we do need to focus on COVID-19, I don't want to forget to do the quarterly updates commitment. This update is the first in that series, and will focus on my first campaign promise, which was accessible government and representation.
Part 1: The Good Parts - Heading in the Right Direction
The good news is that we are starting with a pretty good framework and started off with some quick wins. The city has a fairly user-friendly website, and a good amount of transparency especially regarding the current budget. I am very happy to see the "frequent requests" type of banner added on the site as well. In my experience, Council members meet frequently with stakeholders and members of the public, and often the Mayor answers his phone directly, an amazing thing in a city of our size. Right off the bat, I implemented Virtual Scheduling and different office hours to meet regularly with the public.
I am also very happy to report that we recently finalized the assignment of different "areas" (note do not confuse these for voting districts) that we will represent across the city. We also outlined a quarterly process for holding Townhall Meetings (see the meeting where we discussed here). In these meetings Meridian City Council will come to an open meeting with different parts of the city each quarter. They will be open to all residents, but we will be coming out from City Hall to hear from you directly in a less formal setting. I need to give credit to Council President Treg Bernt for showing leadership and support in pushing this forward for us, he has also been an advocate for Townhall meetings for a long time. Unfortunately, while we hope for the best, the COVID-19 pandemic may disrupt our best-laid plans and I encourage everyone to reach out via alternative means (emails, calls).
Here is the map, I represent Area 2 which is basically Linder to Eagle Road, down to Ustick.
Part 2: The Tough Parts - Unexpected Challenges
The assignment of the Areas we cover took a little bit longer than I expected, but frankly I am also adjusting to the pace of how government works vs. the private sector where all of our meetings need to be noticed, open, put on an agenda and then discussed prior to taking action. I am also finding that the format of our meetings creates some obstacles to more creative thinking and brainstorming, but that our strategic plan will likely provide a big opportunity there.
It is a setback that we are now dealing with COVID-19, and it might end up impacting our ability to do Townhall meetings. Of course we are making public safety our first priority.
In addition, several of the current Council and Mayor were supportive of plans during the campaign to put the creation of Voting Districts on the ballot for the voters to decide. It unfortunately appears that the Legislature is getting ahead of us because they recently voted to mandate voting districts for cities over 100,000 people. I think that letting the voters decide is the right thing to do and have expressed strong support for the concept, but take issue with the Legislature getting involved. Personally, I don't mind if I need to run for office again soon to accomplish everything that I wanted to spend time working on for four years. I enjoy the door-knocking and campaigning process quite a bit! But I think we need to respect the voters having a say in this issue, there are trade-offs.
The biggest setback by far on the goals above for this quarterly performance review is in terms of timing. I feel like while we are on track in meeting the virtual scheduling and office hours campaign commitment, at the same time I have not been able to have a quarterly Townhall meeting yet or more frequent meetings with community members in my assigned area (#2).
Grade: C+ but trending positive, we are on track but there are some timing issues out of our control and room for improvement.
Part 3: Action items Going Forward
Our focus and priority needs to be on fighting COVID-19. In the meantime, I think I can keep making progress on some of the initiatives in accessible government and representation. I would like to work on two or three initiatives in the next quarter:
1) Leverage Technology to Fight COVID-19. I've brought this up in several council meetings, and I know that the Mayor's office is very engaged in finding technology solutions. I would like to see us use hosted conference calls or other remote means for residents who have more compromised immune systems to be able to participate in public hearings. Folks should not have to risk their health to testify in a public hearing at this time, and I will be an advocate on that issue.
2) Explore a Northeast Meridian Advisory Board. I really need to connect with additional leaders in my assigned area. Let's use the time when we are at home more to connect via phone and email to communicate with engaged citizens in Area 2 who are community leaders that would like to advocate for that area of the city, organize meetings and listening sessions (once we have a better handle on COVID-19), and get involved. I want to make sure that the Northeast area of our city has a way to give input on important issues and it could be open to HOA leaders, community leaders, involved parents, educators, and engaged residents.
3) More Active on Nextdoor. Nextdoor is one of the areas of social media that I haven't engaged in as frequently. Recently, I happened to log in and noticed a long thread regarding city council and our growth topics. I would like to try and log in to the platform at least twice a month to engage with people there who are not on Twitter or in our in-person meetings. Since most of my business trips are cancelled, I should have a little more bandwidth to do that.
As always, if you have any questions or concerns please reach out to me. I hope this quarterly performance update on accessible government and representation was helpful. I'm planning to have additional reviews done for the first quarter as we approach and pass the end of the month.