Tag Archives: communications

Improving Accountability and Communications in District 112

In my post on why the technology referendum failed, I promised some ideas on how I think the Eastern Carver County School District could improve relations with voters.  Here’s the first of those ideas — improving how the District communicates with residents, and thereby making it easier for people to understand what is going on in the District.

Here’s an example.  (The point here is just to use this as a sample, not as a particular criticism of the people responsible for this document.)

Every year, the District publishes an Annual Report on Curriculum, Instruction, and Student Achievement.  It’s about a 20-page document that goes into some detail about the initiatives that are underway.  It’s a good document.  But how many parents take the time to read it every year?  How many non-parents read it or understand the efforts that are being made to raise student achievement?

There’s no reason that this document can’t be boiled down into a format that’s easier to understand and gives folks a quick read on what is happening.  I took about an hour and synthesized the report into a two-page executive summary that hits the critical points and is easier to read.

Ideally, it would be even better to move the first section to a format that shows specific, measurable goals for each level and the progress against them for the previous year.  But this is a start.

The same sort of logic can be applied to the financial information that the District provides.  There’s a lot of information on the District website that talks about thepotential budget cutsthat were considered last spring, but not a lot of information about what the actual spending amounts in each category are.  Given the referendum results, more data about how our property tax burden breaks down between operating funds and debt service would be useful.

The School Board also has responsibility here — there’s no reason that complete minutes of Board meetings shouldn’t be published online.  The Summaries that are provided give no real flavor of what occurred at the meeting — they don’t even list who voted for or against given agenda items.  There’s also ample reason to think that meetings should be recorded for online viewing.  A few of the School Board meetings have made it to vimeo — they all should going forward.

These sorts of actions — proactively looking to get information out to the community — are just the sorts of initial (and relatively easy) first steps the District can take to reach out to those who sent a message on Election Day.

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Radio silence continues

Updated below (3/22).

Despite now having a full-time employee devoted to city communications, the City of Chaska continues to underwhelm with its ability to get information out of City Hall and to its residents.  Let’s look at a couple of examples:

  • Downtown Master Plan:  For weeks before the February 16 Open House, the city was claiming it was going to get information on its website regarding the plan and in particular, the three Catalyst Sites.  We’re now nearly five weeks after the Open House, and nothing is posted as of yet.
  • Facebook:  The city heralded its Facebook account when it opened a year ago.  The page now hasn’t been updated in six months.
  • Agendas and Minutes:  Getting agendas and minutes for the City Council and Commissions on to the webpage continues to somehow be a difficult challenge in 2011.  Council agendas are routinely posted very late in the day on the Friday before the meeting.  This is a very poor way to allow people to know what is coming up in front of the Council.  There’s no reason that a preliminary agenda can’t be posted a week in advance, and then updated to a final agenda on Friday.  As for the Commissions, only the Planning Commission has its documents regularly posted to the site.  None of the other Commissions show any activity on the website in 2011, and the Heritage Preservation and Parks Commissions show little activity in the second half of 2010.  The names of the Commissioners haven’t been updated to reflect the new appointments.  This is basic stuff that just isn’t happening.

Who at City Hall is going to begin to take this seriously?  Compare what Chaska is doing to what Chanhassen is doing on the web and on Facebook.  They have a webpage that is clean with a list of recent updates on the right side of the page and has a repository of agendas and minutes that goes back over a decade.  Their Facebook page is updated 2-3 times per week with community links and important updates.

It’s not difficult or expensive to have a clean, easy-to-navigate, and easy-to-update web site today.  (This blog, for instance is built on software that is free.)  It wouldn’t be difficult for the City of Chaska to have a web presence that reflects that — it just takes a little effort.

The city is approaching a major event in the next few days — serious flooding of the Minnesota River that will precipitate the closure of MN-41 and MN-101 between our area and Shakopee.  How is the city going to keep residents informed?  Last year, they used Facebook reasonably effectively to do so.  This year?  Well, we know there’s nothing on Facebook and there’s no current river status on the Chaska city website, either.

Again, compare how Chaska is communicating here versus what is happening in Carver.  Carver’s Mayor, Greg Osterdyk, is providing frequent updates on his blog.  The city website has updates on the front page and a whole special section as well.

The City of Chaska does so many things well — if only they could get it together on their communications.

[UPDATE, 3/22]:  The city is now reposting the Carver County Flood Updates on the front page of the website.  Also, a link to the Athletic Park Webcam has been posted.

More radio silence

Tonight, the Chaska City Council, Chaska Planning Commission, Chaska Parks Commission and Chaska Heritage Preservation Committee will be having a joint meeting at the Chaska Community Center to discuss the initial findings from the Downtown Master Plan process.  (A public forum will take place in January, but tonight’s meeting is an open meeting under Minnesota statute.)

How was this communicated to residents?

Front page of the city website?  Nope.

A note in the City Council section of the website?  Nope.

The City Hall Bulletin?  Nope.  It lists that the normal meeting of the Planning Commission is canceled, but nothing about this meeting.

An announcement on its Facebook page?  Nope.

The only place this meeting is communicated is buried deep in the staff report and in the other business section of the minutes from the 12/6 City Council meeting.

When will City Hall begin to take seriously its responsibility to communicate with residents and make the people part of the process?

Gino Businaro emerges

So far in the new City Council session, Gino Businaro has emerged as the guy asking the toughest questions.  In the new Council’s first meeting, he raised the issue of Rick Ford’s EdCampus involvement.  Last week, Businaro was the most active of the Councilmembers in inquiring about the 212 Medical Center project.  Last night, he raised the question of at what point the public would become involved in the site selection for Chaska’s wind turbine/windmill — a process that based on what was in the Chaska Herald’s recap has probably already gone too far without public input.   We’ve already got site preferences without asking the public?  Not a good sign, fellas! 

Let’s hope the other Councilmembers show Gino’s enthusiasm for asking the reasonable questions, and that everyone holds staff accountable for living up to their answers.


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