New council members introduce Citizen Connection Initiative

Parsons, Dahl and Kolb ran on government responsiveness, openness

After vowing to promote transparency and a more responsive government, Crystal’s three new city council members are hoping to demonstrative that commitment.

Olga Parsons. (Submitted photo)
Olga Parsons. (Submitted photo)

On Jan. 7, incoming city council members Olga Parsons, Elizabeth Dahl and Jeff Kolb – who all won their first election attempts handily – announced the creation of the Citizen Connection Initiative, a program they hope other council members adopt.

The initiative is designed to codify and improve responsiveness and transparency for city officials and staff and generally get Crystal residents more involved in their city government.

Elizabeth Dahl. (Submitted photo)

“During the campaign, one common theme we all heard from the citizens we spoke to was that they didn’t feel as if they had a voice in their city government,” said Parsons.  “That’s the main thing right now – is to be approachable and really create an open atmosphere.”

All three have pledged to do the following:

• Maintain a personal website where they will post information about key votes made by the council

• Maintain a Facebook presence where residents can interact with their representative

• Post occasional updates to about relevant community meetings

• Strive for a 72 hour or shorter response time to citizen inquiries

Jeff Kolb. (Submitted photo)

A statement issued by the three councilmembers adds that, “residents can expect to see their new council representatives at community meetings and out knocking on doors having one-on-one conversations during nonelection years.”

Parsons mentioned an upcoming Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Bowling Tournament and events at the Crystal VFW as examples of those community meetings.

Kolb said that less-immediate steps include more actively promoting citizen input times and making it clear that residents are welcome at council work sessions, where city business is discussed at length and important decisions often unofficially made.

“It’s things like that – kind of reinforcing the message of transparency,” Kold added.

All three newly-minted council members mentioned reforming the way items are added to council agendas.

Crystal entered the state’s GreenSteps program in November, but not before having the vote itself removed from the agenda by Mayor Jim Adams and later placed back again by its supporters, who held a majority vote at the time. Opponents and skeptics of the program contend the vote was “forced through” by the majority, and that residents did not have a proper opportunity to have their viewpoints heard.

“What became clear as part of that (vote) is there’s not really a clear process for how things get on the agenda,” Kolb said.

Even longer range plans could include creating a commission for residents to advise the city on issues relating to the city code, Parsons said.

Dahl mentioned creating a “constituent management process” that could organize and keep track of resident complaints, requests, and other issues.

“Right now we have nothing like that,” she said. “Someone could call city hall ten times about the same problem, and we don’t necessarily know that happened because if they talked to various people you wouldn’t know.”

Kolb said he hopes the connection initiative will encourage other cities to consider similar ideas.

He also provided to the Sun Post a list of short, medium, and long term goals that the council as a whole discussed at a Jan. 8 work session.

The goals Kolb provided are as follows:

Short Term

• Establish council rules that institutionalize good governance practices

• Begin sending thank you notes to citizens who speak before the council

Medium Term

• Hold a traffic symposium to discuss traffic issues

• Implement customer service surveys for interactions at City Hall

• Implement customer service awards for well performing staff

• Look at the Citizen Input Time process for improvements

• Plain Language Initiative

• Revitalize the Neighborhood Watch program

Long Term

• Invest in constituent management software

• Examine budget process for ways to increase public feedback

• Consider hiring a communications staffer

“This initiative will really serve as a guide to our work on the council over the next few years,” said Dahl.  “We wanted to make sure the citizens know this is the direction we’re heading.”

“The whole initiative is to show people that we are, and I am, going to fulfill my campaign promises,” Parsons said.

Contact Joe Bowen at [email protected]