Saguache County is the 5th largest county in the state of Colorado, and at 3,170 square miles it’s larger than some US States.
Public meetings are usually held during the week, during regular business hours. This excludes most of the working population from attendance. Most public meetings (Board of County Commissioners, Saguache County Planning Commission, etc) take place in the Town of Saguache, the County Seat.
Community members travelling need to travel this far, each way, to attend a county meeting:
- Bonanza - 34 miles
- Center -25 miles
- Crestone - 30 miles
- La Garita - 23 miles
- Moffat -17 miles
- Sargents - 68 miles
- Villa Grove - 18 miles
In in order to improve public engagement, we need to lift barriers to public engagement. In accordance with State law, all public meetings are recorded and minutes are taken. It’s important to acknowledge that recording our meetings is about meeting our legal obligations - what we aren’t doing is creating an environment that embraces community engagement and champions transparency.
Live streaming public meetings is quickly becoming a standard at all levels of government. Community members can watch a meeting remotely in real time, or
at a time convenient to them. The County Courthouse and the Road and Bridge meeting room both have a strong enough signal for live streaming, and with today’s mobile technology nothing more than a cellphone with Facebook, Google, or Instagram, is necessary to broadcast, and nothing more than a cell phone is necessary to participate.
Transparency is dramatically enhanced when public meetings can be not just heard, but seen, and accountability of elected and appointed officials improves.
In addition to improving access to public meetings, community engagement can be improved using an ‘all of the above’ approach to feedback and data collection. Any topic important enough for a public meeting is important enough for a public comment period. Any topic important enough for public comments should accept those comments through multiple channels and reach with depth and breadth into our community.
Since I announced my candidacy, I’ve heard many critiques of the local media, and seen several he said/she said squabbles break out over ‘what really happened’ at a public meeting.
The BOCC and various county committees do not as practice issue press releases - perhaps it’s time we should start. The truth of what ‘really happened’ at a public meeting should never been in question. Through increased access to public meetings and official statements, we can restore community confidence in transparent and accountable governance.
Developing future leaders must be part of any community engagement strategy. I ask all the elected officials in the county to allocate 5% of their salary to an internship program for county
High School Students with an interest in government service. Saguache county elected office is term limited - meaning there is always a need for new leaders. Providing an opportunity to learn the ins and outs of local government to students in a non-partisan manner, will ensure that we have capable leadership for many years to come, and that we can continue to give our voters choices by reducing uncontested elections.
These student interns could help us move forward in our community engagement by playing a leading role in community engagement and providing a platform for meaningful involvent by tomorrow’s voters, while simultaneously earning independence study and/or college credit.