Council seeks alternative ways to reach citizens

Coffee, public meetings, office hours among ideas for greater engagement

Posted 6/11/19

On an early April morning, Lone Tree’s five city councilmembers and Mayor Jackie Millet sat in the lobby of the Lone Tree Hub, a box of coffee and a platter of pastries on a table beside them, …

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Council seeks alternative ways to reach citizens

Coffee, public meetings, office hours among ideas for greater engagement

Posted

On an early April morning, Lone Tree’s five city councilmembers and Mayor Jackie Millet sat in the lobby of the Lone Tree Hub, a box of coffee and a platter of pastries on a table beside them, along with a few city staff members, two longtime residents and one reporter.

They were there for Coffee with Council, one of the city’s varied attempts to interact with constituents on a more personal level.

The turnout from local residents did not meet expectations this Thursday morning, Millet said. But whether it’s mornings, afternoons or weekends, she said, the city faces the same struggle with drawing residents to these gatherings or city council meetings.

“Our preference would be to have them reach out, versus this one-way communication,” Millet said.

But city officials believe a main reason for sparse attendance is that, for the most part, people are happy in Lone Tree, Millet said.

Several residents second that.

Pat Panzarino, a retired resident who has lived in Lone Tree for two years, said there’s no need to show up to council meetings or voice his opinion because there’s nothing to really gripe about.

“I think it’s working really well,” he said about city council. “I think the mayor does a good job, the council seems to have really good plans and they’re executing really well. If I saw something that was really deficient, I would probably go there and do what most people do — maybe if things got a little bit more out of hand, but not so far.”

Turnout at council meetings differs among area cities. Centennial has a similar turnout to Lone Tree, while Castle Rock and Parker have slightly better numbers, according to meeting attendance data.

Centennial, Castle Rock and Parker — along with many other metro Denver muncipalities — also live stream their council meetings, which Parker Mayor Mike Waid said makes it easier for residents to stay on top of city happenings.

“We realize that people are busy and may not be able to find the time to attend something as structured as a public meeting,” Waid said in an email. “Technology has really helped local government agencies like ours reach people where they’re located and at a time that fits with their own personal schedule.”

Lone Tree does not record or stream its city meetings. Minutes, however, are kept of all the meetings so residents can learn about what has happened in that way.

Colorado law does not require a municipality to record or live stream its meetings. It does require minutes to be taken and provided upon approval, which happens at the next meeting two weeks later.

Millet said she believes there’s not enough demand to consider a live stream feature at its meetings.

Citizens reach out on a case-by-case basis, she said, adding that the city is proactive with resident concerns. Millet said she would rather meet people face to face.

Kevin Bommer, executive director of the Colorado Municipal League, a resource group for local government officials, said engagement looks different from city to city. Some have more involvement at council meetings while others see more interaction behind the scenes.

“One of the things, regardless if they televise it or not, (cities) are always trying to figure out how they can engage the citizens they serve. You’re seeing all sorts of different programs and efforts to do that,” Bommer said. “One of the discussions at the local level of televising or streaming, is ‘Is this going to better help folks connect to their municipal government?’ ... But it’s an ongoing discussion, and those are often budget decisions, and maybe tough ones depending on the municipality.”

Lone Tree officials take advantage of the city’s size to reach residents. They hold Coffee with Council meetings throughout the year. Millet said she tries to make herself accessible outside of council chambers to residents.

And, for the most part, for residents, that’s good enough for now.

“I’ve never had a problem, but if I did I have, no question I feel the right person can get back to me,” said Karen McGlinch, 58, who has lived in Lone Tree for just over one year. “That’s part of the reason I moved here.”

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