Staff in recent months have already reached out to neighborhood associations around the county such as Commonwealth-Morningside, Country Club Heights, Elizabeth, Highland Creek, Oakhurst, and others. Presentations on how to “Connect with Mecklenburg County” have already been scheduled with some of the groups.
“Connect with Mecklenburg County” information asks residents to like the County’s Facebook page, follow the County on Twitter, bookmark www.mecklenburgcountync.gov on their computers, volunteer for local government programs and services, and call 3-1-1 if they have a question about County services.
For the last few years, County leaders have been trying to figure out new ways to engage County residents, connect with citizens, get citizens involved, and keep them informed. As one official put it, “We’re taking Government out of the Government Center and into the communities.”
“Informed and involved citizens make Mecklenburg County a better place to live, work, and play,” said Citizen Involvement Coordinator Sophia Hollingsworth. “MeckConnect is a grassroots effort to have a presence in the community to educate people about what the County does and to get people involved. You can volunteer, host a meeting, and get information about what the County does.”
Part of that strategy initially had County Manager Harry Jones speaking to civic groups all over Mecklenburg County. Two years ago, Jones spoke directly to – and listened to - hundreds of residents through meetings at dozens of community groups.
Following that, County officials coordinated more than a dozen property revaluation meetings to give more than 1,000 residents a chance to ask questions and provide feedback and then hosted a series of meetings on the County budget.
“I thought it was a great opportunity for people to learn more about revaluation,” said Annette Privette-Keller, Town of Matthews Communications Director, who helped coordinate one of the sessions in Matthews. “It was also a chance for people to meet with County staff. Anytime we can open avenues of face-to-face communication with people it benefits us all.”
Next, County officials coordinated “town hall” style budget meetings in Charlotte, Cornelius, and Matthews and got what Jones called “unprecedented” input on the budget going into last Spring’s budget discussions.
“The town hall budget meetings were a great example of citizen input,” Hollingsworth said. “Our promise to them was their priorities would be presented to the County Manager and Executive Team as the FY 12 budget was being framed and their priorities lined up very closely with what the final budget was.”
She said people are surprised at the outreach efforts.
“The other night when I was at the Lion’s Club, the folks at the Lion’s Club were just shocked that we are doing this and that we are trying to hear what the citizens think,” Hollingsworth said. “They are excited to hear that they can be a part of the process.”
Neighborhood and other group leaders seem to like the new focus on communicating with them directly.
“Yes, I think this is a fantastic idea of having someone we can reach out to as well as getting more folks involved in the social media aspect of our local government,” said Chris Connor, President of the Country Club Heights Neighborhood Association. “My hope is that more folks will be better informed about what is going on and what services are available to them.”
Derrik Anderson of Foresight Leadership who is involved with the West Boulevard Community Roundtable, said he was equally impressed.
“The MeckConnect program is a useful tool,” said Anderson, who has had Jones and Budget Director Hyong Yi speak to his group in previous years. “The program provides helpful information and opportunities that allow citizens to engage and participate with the County Government for the benefit of our community.”
For Yvonne McJetters, who runs an organization called Hope Hands Hearts Ministries, MeckConnect is about access.
“It helps to be able to pick up the telephone and get immediate assistance from you in connecting with contacts that I would not necessarily have at my fingertips on a daily basis,” McJetters said.
If you would like to find out more about how to Connect with Mecklenburg County, email Gott at Brian.Gott@MecklenburgCountyNC.gov.