Freeport solicits feedback on first-in-state website

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FREEPORT — Speaking up about local affairs is now a couple of clicks away with the launch of a new website in town.

Freeporttalks.org, operated by Omaha-based MindMixer, is in a trial stage for several months. It is a forum to get opinions and input from residents on a variety of quality of life issues, according to Town Planner Donna Larson.

Larson said the website idea caught her eye when she was attending a conference. She said it is a way for councilors and town officials to gauge public opinion from people who might not want to attend local meetings.

“We will make sure the topics are appropriate and what people want to talk about,” Larson said.

A larger commitment to using the site would cost $7,500 annually or $6,000 per year for a two-year contract, Larson said. She contrasted the cost of the website to the $100,000 spent annually for public access broadcasts of meetings that have no provision for viewers to contribute to proceedings.

Larson said the site attracted her because it contains filters to prevent derogatory comments and requires contributors to use first names and last initials, as opposed to nicknames.

The site currently contains five questions where contributors can submit ideas and a poll question about whether advertising should be allowed in parks and recreation areas.

Included in the questions is a query about the qualities residents would like to see in the next town manager, who will replace Dale Olmstead later this year.

Larson said she envisions the site being used by municipal departments, Regional School Unit 5, the Freeport Community Library and the Freeport Historical Society, too.

Freeport Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Sande Updegraph said she anticipates the site will provide insight about how economic development should occur in town.

The third question on the site now asks how the town can support “a  local economy and healthy community.”

Updegraph said the reporting tools available on the site will also help her quantify and prioritize responses she can pass on to the FEDC board.

“I hope we will hear from people we don’t normally hear from,” she said.

In her role as town planner, Larson said input she gets on questions like how to make the town better accessible to bicyclists could determine what kinds of funding grants she pursues.

The closest town to Freeport using a MindMixer-owned site is Barnstable, Mass., on Cape Cod. According to the MindMixer website, there are also sites operating in San Francisco, and Tulsa, Okla.

Larson said councilors and Town Manager Dale Olmstead have expressed support for funding the site as she learns how it can best be used.

“I hope visiting the site becomes a part of people’s routines,” Larson said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow David on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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