Five Dane County Board supervisors will work on creating broader and more accessible ways for residents— particularly from communities that are often less involved in local politics — to learn about county initiatives and provide input.
Over the next six months, the team — which comprises County Board Chairwoman Sharon Corrigan, 26th District; Sup. Paul Nelson, 9th District; Sup. Kelly Danner, 11th District; Sup. Yogesh Chawla, 6th District; and Sup. Tanya Buckingham, 24th District — will meet with community organizations that work with marginalized or diverse groups as well as other county residents to see what the board can do to promote public input on county policies and practices.
“People are busy, and they’ve got their own lives,” said Danner, whose district includes much of Madison’s Near West Side. “I think it’s really important for local government to reach out to their constituents and seek out a variety of different viewpoints.”
Currently, the County Board uses weekly press releases, the legislation portal dane.legistar.com and some social media sites to connect with residents, said Corrigan, whose district includes Middleton.
These methods haven’t created effective communication between residents and county officials, she said.
“As a new board member, it’s been really clear how difficult it is to get feedback from constituents,” said Buckingham, who was elected in April. “I really want to hear from them when I make decisions.”
The team of supervisors is working with the UW-Extension to examine methods other municipalities and local governments throughout the country use to inform residents and seek input.
Corrigan said the team will hold some public meetings but also will go to regularly scheduled meetings at community organizations.
She said the intention is to meet people where they are and in their communities rather than make them travel to a board meeting.
The team will hold discussions at the Latino Support Network of Dane County and the City-County Homeless Issues Committee, and plans to schedule visits to the Beacon homeless day center and a senior center. Other meetings are being planned with the Madison Network of Black Professionals and the Dane County Towns Association.
“It’s about what issues are important to people, how they want to be reached and how they want to provide feedback,” Corrigan said about the effort, which has been dubbed Engage Dane.
Buckingham, whose district includes Monona, said she has been to two information sessions to get feedback on Engage Dane with the Latino Support Network and the Area Agency on Aging.
She said suggestions so far have included creating a Latino-specific communication plan and holding meetings in easily accessible locations for seniors for whom mobility can be a problem.
With more community input, particularly from groups that haven’t been represented in policy discussions, the board would have a clearer picture of needs and wants in the county when making policy and funding decisions, Corrigan said.
“The board has already been working hard to increase the transparency and accessibility of our work,” said Nelson, whose district includes Madison’s Far West Side and parts of Middleton.
“My hope is we can take things to the next level by developing a plan to encourage more civic participation and perhaps light a fire under individuals who never thought they would get involved.”
Following the community input phase, the team will draft a plan to increase community involvement, review the draft plan with the community and full board and implement a pilot for the program before it is fully rolled-out.
Information about future meetings and the planning process will be available at board.countyofdane.com/engage-dane.