Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Group eyes plan for public input

Sustain Blaine to ask cities, county to fund handheld polling devices


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

The Sustain Blaine economic development board plans to solicit $12,000 from cities and the county to buy a set of handheld polling devices for use in public meetings. The group also hopes the purchase will eventually become a private fundraising opportunity for it.

"My proposal was to go to the cities and say we're prepared to manage the implementation of the use of the clicker program in our community," Harry Griffith, the group's executive director, said during a board meeting Monday. "Let's act as the community focal point for this."

The handheld polling devices have been used in three public meetings so far, one on the Ketchum comprehensive plan and two on the economic importance of Friedman Memorial Airport.

Participants used the clickers to anonymously weigh in on questions posted on a screen, and the data was immediately collected and displayed so meeting leaders could sense where the crowd's opinion lay on various issues.

Griffith said the benefit of using the devices is that everyone can give an opinion during a public meeting without fear of condemnation.

"The community really needs something like this, where you get the quiet voice in the back of the room and the loud voice in the front," he said.

However, the cost of renting the devices runs into the thousands of dollars, Griffith said. The city of Ketchum spent roughly $2,000 on rentals for its meeting, and Sustain Blaine spent $1,200 to rent a smaller number of devices for two meetings. Steve Mills, CEO of Webb Landscaping, said his company rented 50 devices for $700 for use at an employee meeting.

The purchase price of a set of 200 devices and accompanying software would run about $12,000, Griffith said—a cost he said might be worthwhile if local entities would use the devices.

"[If you hold] five events, you are better off purchasing the devices," he said.

Griffith said the clickers would come with yearly software upgrades, but that they would not become obsolete any time soon, maximizing their value.

"This stuff is going to work for the next 10 years with no changes," he said.

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County Commissioner and Sustain Blaine Board Member Tom Bowman said the county might be willing to chip in the $2,000 that Sustain Blaine will request from each municipality.

"I can see where we'd be interested in it," he said, adding that the county would likely use it to poll employees and also in revising the county's comprehensive plan.

Ketchum City Councilman Baird Gourlay said during a Sustain Blaine meeting earlier this month that Ketchum would be willing to contribute to the devices, and Griffith said he was confident of the city's support.

"I know Ketchum is going to do it," he said. "They're in for $2,000."

Once the devices are funded, Griffith said, cities that contributed and the county would be allowed to use the devices for free for a limited period of time. After that, the cities, county and any private entities that wish to use the devices could rent them for a fee of about $150 per use. That could allow the group to reduce its reliance on public funding.

"This shifts us from public sector support to private sector support," Griffith said.

Sun Valley City Councilwoman Joan Lamb said she wasn't certain that Sun Valley would be willing to contribute to the devices' funding. The city has already held most of its comprehensive planning meetings, she said, and is unlikely to need the clickers.

"We could have certainly used them two months ago," she said, adding that comprehensive plan modifications only come up every five years.

However, Mills said big local businesses such as Webb Landscaping, Marketron, Power Engineers and Smith would likely want to use them. He said that when he used the clickers in a recent company-wide meeting he was able to gather input from all his employees, a capability that was worth the rental cost.

"We always have three or four strong voices and no one else says anything," he said. "[This time,] we had a fantastic response."

The group will begin requesting funding after the first of the year.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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