Should Santa Monica, Calif.,build a new skateboard park? Orshould money be spent on betterpolicing for Main Street and the OceanPark neighborhood? Rick, Jim andMarilyn think the skateboardersshould get the nod. Michael wishes thecity would just clean up theneighborhood. And Derek thinks SantaMonica should focus on housing forlow- and moderate-income people whoare in danger of being forced out byrising rents and property prices.
These Santa Monica residents may disagree on how the city should allocate its1999-2000 budget, but they do have one thing in common: They voiced theiropinions electronically. By filling out a simple form on Santa Monica’s WorldWide Web site, they were able to make budget suggestions-and viewothers’-without having to write a letter, corner a City Council member or attenda council meeting in person.
The online form is a city service for “people who can’t make it to councilmeetings or wait around for two or three hours to make a comment,” said JudyRambeau, a communications coordinator in Santa Monica’s city manager’soffice. Although the Web suggestions take mere moments to fill out and submit,Rambeau said the city tells its department heads to consider them every bit asseriously as suggestions offered in writing or face-to-face.
Santa Monica resident Michael Grandcolas used the online budget suggestionform to request more police presence in his neighborhood. “I’ve gone down tocouncil meetings and have waited to speak, but I’ll only do that about issues Ifeel super-passionate about. It can tie up the whole evening,” he said.Grandcolas heard about the form from neighbors who also were interested inincreased foot and bicycle patrols. “They said there’s a place on the Web to postthe suggestion, and it was much more convenient than writing a letter orcalling.”
Once a citizen types in a suggestion and clicksthe Submit Form button, the text isautomatically converted into a simple e-mailmessage, which is delivered to the citymanager’s office for routing. The mayor andthe six other City Council members receive acopy, and a copy also goes to the financedepartment and the head of the citydepartment that is most likely to handle theindividual request.
So far, the types of requests fielded onlinearen’t significantly different fromcitizen-initiated suggestions heard in person,over the phone or through the mail, Rambeausaid. The city’s Community and CulturalServices Department gets most of the citizenideas, followed by the Police, Planning andCommunity Development, and Environmentaland Public Works Management departments.
The budget suggestion form is available on the Santa Monica site for the firsthalf of each year, but it is most relevant in January and February, whendepartment heads are preparing to send their initial budget requests in to thefinance director, Mike Dennis. Beginning in March, the budget is debated atvarious levels, including in a public forum, before being finalized at the end ofJune.
In 1999, the second year for the online form, the city received 112 budgetsuggestions from citizens: 54 over the Web and 58 from either letters orspeakers at a public hearing held in January.
“We make an effort to ask department heads how these online suggestions wereconsidered and why they did or did not reflect them in their budget requests,”Dennis said.