Now that the Scottsdale approved the General Plan 2035 and City Council has canvassed the vote, it’s time to put the document to work.
One portion of the plan centers on improving the city’s community involvement and communication.
“Scottsdale has a long history of public participation and community involvement,” Kelly Corsette, Scottsdale communications and public affairs director, told Council during a recent public on the issue.
“They are really the cornerstones of our success as a municipal government,” he said. “Citizen involvement has been part of the city’s fabric since its early days. The most probably well-known early example is the Scottsdale community enrichment program of the 60s, which established a vision for the community and laid the groundwork for many of the unique physical aspects of Scottsdale we know and love today.”
The creation of the Indian Bend Greenbelt and Scottsdale Civic Center are examples of what can happen when residents are engaged, Corsette said. Getting that citizen involvement in community life needs to employ both ends of the technology spectrum, council members intimated during a work study session.
Councilman Tom Durham wants a better way to get more accurate information about city issues disseminated on social media.
As COVID made it difficult to gather people for typical townhall meetings, much of the social discourse about the General Plan took place online and because much of that was not moderated or even commented on by the city, a lot of wrong information was spread, Durham said.
“We should think more about effective communications in the area of Facebook and Nextdoor,” Durham said.
Councilwoman Linda Milhaven suggested using Mentimeter software to conduct online meetings.
Mentimeter builds interactive presentations with an online editor and adds questions, polls, quizzes, slides, images, gifs and more for presentations that audiences can access with their smartphones in a real-time conversation to your presentation to create fun and engaging presentations. Once the presentation is over, the results can be further analyzed and even used to measure the presenters’ progress with the audience.
However, Councilwoman Kathy Littlefield said low-tech solutions offer a better approach in some scenarios.
“I can look around to a lot of folks who are older who aren’t quite as comfortable with a lot of high-tech stuff – getting online and looking at this and looking at that, and trying to figure out how you get over here and over to there” she said. “I like low tech and I like no expenses to go with that.”
She supported more traditional approaches like a phone bank to do a better job with answering people’s questions or kiosks in areas like parks, libraries and senior centers. She recommended putting fliers about public meetings in the trolleys and changing them out once a week or putting notices with pretty pictures that will catch people’s eye in the city’s water bills, she said.
Milhaven also embraced low-tech solutions as well, like using block watch captains to spread the word on city issues.
“I know block watch captains were set up for public safety, if they see something suspicious happening in the neighborhood, they’re going to let the neighbors know … but I also know in talking with folks who are block watch captains that they’re sort of the person who is sort of paying attention and letting their neighbors know what’s going on (with other issues).”
Councilwoman Betty Janik wants the city to do a better job at anticipating hot button issues and being more proactive in disseminating information as well as seeking it from the public.
One tool she would like the city to utilize is online surveys for issues that staff foresees as possible hot button issues.
She pointed to the controversial Greenbelt 88 mixed use development project proposed near the intersection of Hayden and Osborn roads. The project is proposing 278 apartments and 25,000 square-feet of commercial space, but it has drawn the ire of many area residents.
The grassroots group “Protect Scottsdale” has garnered over 870 signatures opposing the project through an online survey and Janik feels the city should be running that survey instead of Protect Scottsdale.
“It really shouldn’t be the job of one interested person to conduct that (survey),” Janik said.
Vice mayor Tammy Caputi cautioned against online surveys, though.
“You can make an online survey give you anything you want, depending on how you word it,” Caputi said. “Those make me very leery. I would be a little bit nervous about increasing the use of that unless we’re super careful with how we word them.”
However, Caputi did like the idea of creating fact sheets when a perceived hot-button issue comes along.
“I think the biggest problem we have in all of our outreach seems to always be lack of facts and misinformation,” Caputi said. “We get this all the time. That’s what starts the angst and the anxiety and the negative voices and the back comments.”
Janik would also like to see information about developments physically posted on the project site until after construction is completed because many people don’t learn about them until work begins.
“People in the neighborhood still want to know what’s going on, what’s involved, what’s the name of the project, and how big it is,” Janik said. “I think that information should also continue not just once it’s been approved (by the city council) but once the construction starts until it’s completed.”
Councilwoman Solange Whitehead would like to streamline the city’s website so people can make specific requests and inform the city of issues like water leaks.
“When I reported a leak, it took me like three or four clicks plus a couple of phone calls,” Whitehead said.
She too would also like to see better outreach to residents when development projects are proposed.
“We don’t want to send out more postcards, that’s more paper; it costs a lot of money, but what can we do?” Whitehead said. “Gosh, I hate to even suggest Nextdoor.com, but is there a way that is cheap, environmentally sound and effective that can get more people notified about an up coming project sooner or just make it so people can’t say, ‘I’ve never heard of Greenbelt 88 and now it’s on the agenda.”
Mayor Ortega said residents expect the best community involvement opportunities possible.
“Some people describe Scottsdale as high maintenance,” Ortega said. “’High maintenance’ means, our residents, whether they are permanent or half-year, are involved and that’s a good thing.”