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Iowa City Councilors, Regents open to idea of online community forums

BY LAUREN COFFEY | SEPTEMBER 21, 2012 6:30 AM

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Officials from the state Board of Regents and the Iowa City City Council have recognized the need for community forums following the establishment of a forum website for the School District.

The Iowa City School District worked with Mind Mixer to create an open forum website that went live Sept. 11. The website costs $7,500 per year to operate.

The website was created in an effort to help people give their opinions who may not be able to attend school board or other committee meetings.

“We are hopeful that we will be able to reach stakeholders who have not otherwise been able to share their thoughts, opinions, and ideas through traditional forums,” said Superintendent Steve Murley.

The City Council and the regents do not currently operate similar forums, but officials from both said they are not opposed to the idea of establishing something similar.

“This [idea] was brought up at the last meeting, but there has been no board discussion, at least to which I have been present,” Regent Robert Downer said. “I would want to have more specifics on how it operates, what else it would take. But I have no objection to it personally.”

City Councilor Connie Champion said she’d like to see how well the School District’s online forum operates before pursuing anything for the city.

“We’ve never talked about it,” she said. “I think it’s a great idea, but we should think about it to see how it works before deciding anything.”

The School District’s website enables community members to vote on proposals, as well as comment on articles the district posts asking for the community’s opinion. Administration members can then reply to community member’s comments.

“The administration monitors the board, and we want those people to look at the issues that pertain to them,” said Kate Moreland, the School District community relations coordinator. “We try to provide more information for the community, to create more of a conversation. That becomes beneficial for both sides involved.”

Topics are available for comment for 30 days.

Moreland said the website would increase transparency for the School Board as well as the School District.

“The transparency helps us gauge public opinion in various issues,” she said. “It’s a great way to get ideas out there.”

Current topics on the website include polling community members about putting cell towers on elementary schools — which has generated 63 votes — and asking how students could be motivated to walk or bike to school, which has 17 submitted ideas.

Murley also hopes to have a more professional public forum, instead of the typical forum that may stray from giving productive opinions.

“We also want to focus our dialog on constructive solutions rather than the vitriolic diatribes that are the standard fare on media blogs,” he said.

School officials said they take the submitted comments and ideas seriously and hope to work with submissions and transform them into ideas the school can implement.

“It’s been good to see some positive ideas that we can work together with the community,” Moreland said. “The feedback is always helpful.”


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