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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Monday, December 19, 2016

NorCo's Public Engagement Problem

Once every year, Northampton County conducts a "Citizens Academy" to give residents an insight about county government. This is a good example of public engagement. It pretty much stops there. The county dragged its feet on releasing the names of the most recent graduates, even though they were recognized at a Council meeting on November 17. Three weeks after the fact, the County finally issued a news release about this graduation. This has yet to be posted on the "News" feature of the homepage of Northampton County's disastrous new website. Is this public engagement? This is going through the motions, a day late and a dollar short, by a county government that has no desire to be transparent or accountable.

Don't believe me? Take a look at the "News" feature on the County's new webpage, which seems to have been designed to exclude everyone from finding out anything. This "news" feature is the first thing you see on the homepage. It was last updated on November 7, nearly two months ago. The most recent update does contain important information about a Veterans' Discount ID program. But its link to the program is broken.

That's really a lousy thing to do to those who served. It exemplifies a cultural problem in NorCo's leadership. They feel they have no need to engage the public.

Now that daily newspapers are dying and have pretty much stopped covering County and much other local government, this disdain for the public is becoming a serious problem. It's why a Council member like Seth Vaughn thinks he can skip its most important meeting of the year - the one for budget amendments.

"Who cares?" he said. "I'll win next year's election, too, pal. ... Nobody reads your blog, pal."

This blog's readership is only a small fraction (about 1.6%) of the community, so he has a point. Unfortunately, this blog is now often the only source of news about NorCo government.

Executive John Brown is a product of the private sector. This is a far cry from the participatory democracy contemplated by our Home Rule Charter. His insular and top-bottom style almost never ends well.

In contrast to Northampton County, Bethlehem Township has made great strides to engage the public. Its webpage has a livechat feature where a citizen can talk with a staffer online and be directed to the right place. It includes separate links to Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram and even Snapchat. Its Nixel feature will alert you to accidents, road closures and other things residents may wish to know.

Because half of the Internet users are now using mobile phones, it's important to use these social media applications. Pismo Beach has actually created its own mobile app, which made city officials there aware of water quality concerns.

NorCo's webpage is designed to keep the public at bay, not engage them. So are Council agendas that don't bother to include underlying documents.

If you look at the evaluation tool used by Pepperdine's School of Public Policy, Northampton County gets a failing grade on public engagement. But I'm beginning to think that's what they want.

After all, democracy is messy.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Departments and divisions are tasked with providing content for the web pages and news page. The Dept. of Administration, under the "leadership" of tax cheat Allen could care less about promoting their rare achievements i.e. the Citizens Academy. The only thing Allen is interested in is promoting her own self interests, like cheating on her travel expense account, getting raise after undeserved raise, having a private parking space and use of a county car. Smoking in non-smoking areas. And who knows what other perks. She could care less about the citizens she is fleecing. County leadership is weak with bland, indifferent Brown, and his self-serving sidekick. So why are you so surprised what a train wreck the new website is?

Anonymous said...

Too many complaints! Why not channel all this negativity into something positive and do something about it?!!? Start getting on their cases and embarrass them into doing the right thing already!!!!! More action, less talk! Who agrees here?!?!!? Stick together and don't give up!!!!!!! Make something good happen! God bless America!!!

Anonymous said...

Let's make Northampton County great again!

Anonymous said...

Engagement! This is another example of arrogant people running, controlling and blindly operating the fiscal affairs of Northampton County. From the top to the bottom, these bottom feeders have made NC the laughing stock of Pennsylvania. From the administration, to the court system and through the legislative body; this is poor government in action. In all my life, I have never seen such poor management in action. There should be a citizens class on non-transparency and back-door politics wherein the clowns in the administration and council could mentor and instruct with fluidity. All off these incompetents have to go!

Anonymous said...

"All off these incompetents have to go!"

having been around for a while, this statement is hilarious.

I have heard it said abut every administration going back to the dawn of home rule.

Anonymous said...

One helpful information source was the publication of candidate financial reports. It was the most transparent source of government information that one could get. My vote for the top exec will depend on a promise to restore this information.

george schaller said...

Bernie,
Maybe the designer are one in the same as local advertismentalists!
REpublican redd
humanist by design

Anonymous said...

Bernie, as time goes by it is more and more apparent that this is an administration that often does not pay attention to important detail (for whatever reasons) but County Council is supposed to be there as a watch dog (though it falls asleep some times). Cusick, Kraft and Werner in particular should never fall asleep in this role. They are veterans who should insist on things being done correctly. Appears to me they don`t always do so.