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County launches ‘Ecomments’ with online agendas

By Staff | Aug 31, 2011

Lee County residents have a new way to share their opinions about agenda items with commissioners without attending the weekly meetings.

Last week, Lee County’s Public Resources Office launched “Ecomments” as part of the Lee County Commission agendas found online. When people check the agendas, they now have the option of submitting an electronic comment.

“We’re always looking for new and inventive ways to provide better service to the public,” Denise Scott, the website content coordinator for the county, said Wednesday. “Technology is one way to do that.”

She explained that not everyone can attend the regular meetings.

The Lee County Board of County Commissioners meets every Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. at the Old Lee County Courthouse, at 2120 Main St., Fort Myers.

At the meetings, citizens have an opportunity to address the board.

“We wanted to provide everyone the opportunity to share their thoughts with commissioners, even if they’re unable to attend,” Scott said. “Our whole goal is to increase communications between the county and public.”

Agendas are posted online each Tuesday for the following week.

To submit an electronic comment, open the document and click on the blue link located inside of the boxed text that is toward the top of the first page.

The deadline to submit comments for the next week is Sunday at midnight.

Scott explained that electronic comments are sent to all five of the Lee County commissioners, as well as the department officials in charge of the related agenda items. Officials get the comments so they can prepare for questions that the commissioners may have at the meeting as a result.

“It’s a way to get the message out to everyone,” she said. “You can kind of do a one-stop shopping, in a way, to all your commissioners in one form.”

Scott added that there is instant communication because as citizens read over an agenda item, they can immediately send a comment on the item.

“Hopefully, we’re simplifying the process for people,” she said.

Submittals, including personal information, will become public record. However, comments will not be published nor read aloud at meetings.

Citizens will not receive a response after submitting an electronic comment. If they request a response, or want to submit an attachment, people should contact the appropriate commissioner, or county staffer, directly by e-mail.

“We’re not trying to limit that interaction,” Scott said of people calling and e-mailing commissioners. “There is a formal process for the meeting and we wanted to create a formal process for those who cannot actually attend.”

“It’s a standardized form that people can fill out,” she said of Ecomments.

Inappropriate, defamatory and spam submittals will not be accepted.

“It can be a critical e-mail as long as it’s courteous communication,” Scott said.

In the works for a year, Ecomments went active with Tuesday’s meeting.

“Unfortunately, we haven’t received any comments yet, but we realize this is a brand new process,” she said. “We would really encourage everyone to try it out and participate in our local government.”

Commission meeting agendas can be found online at: www.lee-county.com.

“While citizen presence at county commission meetings remains an important part of open government, we are hopeful that Ecomments will provide a voice for those who cannot attend,” Lee County Manager Karen Hawes wrote in a prepared statement.