What if we could Twitter our ‘?’s to City Council?

images7My wife and I poured ourselves a glass of wine and turned on NCTV to watch the Nevada City Council meeting Wednesday night — hometown theater.

Short of setting up a Tiki bar in the back of council chambers — a money-maker in a recession—this is the most relaxing way to watch the drama unfold. You also can blog the outcome in real time.

The highlights: You can’t fight City Hall, so the outcome on disbanding the city’s finance committee was a foregone conclusion — despite some opposition. In most small-town governments, the staff directs the council, not the other way around. 

I hope a plan to form a new “citizen’s advisory committee,” as well as depend more on City Hall staff to help guide the council, works out.

But it was disturbing to see the staff errors that were corrected throughout the meeting: in the minutes, as well as a housing report. (In one case, the sales-tax rate from Measure S — common knowledge — was stated incorrectly.)

I’m all for working together, but our “public servants” need to be more careful in their work. We put our trust in them. City Hall jobs, and the benefits that go with them, are among the highest-paying jobs in a rural area.

Too often I kept hearing about how the council was a “volunteer” group, but we depend on them to be our “watchdogs” on complex matters. Some people might be offended, but you need to ask tough questions. 

We also elected our Treasurer, who sits on the finance committee. I was disappointed to see this item on the “consent agenda.” People want an open debate — without having to ask for it.

Most people attending the meeting were the regulars. Here’s a thought: What if people who watched on TV from home could “twitter” some questions to the council during the public comment period?

It would add an extra dimension — and maybe some more thoughtful dialogue — to the proceedings.

Sheriff’s new crime map might not work for you

The county Sheriff’s Office has released a cool new online crime map to show calls to its communications center.

It’s free if you go here. It’s the latest example of how government finds itself “competing” with the media in providing information on the Web.

But there’s a hitch. The map depends on some Microsoft software called “Silverlight.” Silverlight is not compatable with all operating systems and browsers, however.

The warning is here. Click on “system requirements” to see the details. 

Microsoft has a habit of wanting to support its own operating system — now Vista — and its browser, Internet Explorer, rather than its competitors, such as *some versions* of Apple Computer. A lot of people don’t like Microsoft for this reason.

Most PCs are Microsoft, but Apple is gaining share.

We need to create a home-grown stimulus plan

Cities, counties and states through the nation are creating their own economic stimulus plans to cope with the recession.

We could do this too: use more local contractors for ongoing construction projects; offer gift cards to encourage shopping in town; and reduce rent to help out local businesses. Some of this is happening, but it needs to happen faster.

As The Wall Street Journal reports: “Some are taking the traditional route of cutting corporate taxes. Others are trying all sorts of ideas: Paying residents to shop in local stores; giving real-estate brokers bonuses for bringing tenants to empty strip malls; reducing fees on new development; even critiquing local restaurants and giving owners feedback on how best to bring in customers.”

In Carrollton near Dallas, the council has dipped into a budget surplus to create up to 250 temporary jobs paying $8 to $10 an hour, the Journal reports. “Hiring will swing into gear this week for shifts planting trees, painting fire hydrants and sprucing up Little League fields,” the paper said.

We can’t afford this here, but we could do other things: For example:

•Construction projects, such as the ongoing one at Sierra College, could make a more concerted effort to use local contractors. I hear this is being considered!

•Businesses could get together to offer gift cards for residents who spend a certain amount of dollars here instead of “down the hill.”

•More landlords could offer reduced rent to businesses, at least for a while. This has been happening in downtown Nevada City and some commercial deals, but it could expand.

All told, it will require leadership in business and government to get “out of the box” and come up with some cool ideas. Are we up to it?

‘The Printed Blog’: Is it the future of journalism?

images24A printed blog seems counter-intuitive but think again.

For example, I noticed the lead article in Tuesday’s edition of  my hometown newspaper The Union was something I’d reported on my blog a week ago: A local group launching a site on Facebook to promote economic development in our county.

Cool. I’m glad the group got the “ink.” I greatly admire them. 

My blog also was the first to report that Newmont Corp. was striking a multi-million-dollar settlement with Grass Valley on its old mine.

I’m not competing: I just hear things because I know people, I am an experienced and trained journalist in print and online, and now I can self publish items as a “citizen journalist.”  (Blogging is part of my daily routine, like swimming and hanging out with my family).

Many blogging sites are growing rapidly, too, including mine. With blogging, it’s back to the days where “content is king” and distribution is being re-examined.

As with bloggers, good newspaper editors and their publishers need good sourcing to make their products “unique” — or they will die. But other “citizen journalists” in our communities also can dig up some good information on their own. I’ve seen it.

Here’s an idea: What if a paper such as The Union — and entrepreneurs with brands such as The Printed Blog in a growing number of cities — were to “reverse publish” the content from my blog and others into print, sell ads to go with it, and hand it out for free? This would include commentary and photos, too.

Papers throughout the nation — big and small — could do the same. Bloggers might agree to this to get some broader exposure — and get paid as freelancers down the road. Some national blogs such as Daily Kos and Mark Cuban’s Blog Maverick would participate, too, at least with the startups. It would replace costly syndicated content — some of it dull. 

Sounds like a good business model, eh? Newspapers would die to do it but are locked into an “outdated” cost structure that’s tough to shed. Their managements are risk adverse (most journalists aren’t entrepreneurs) and also lack  Web experience. (Wearing a black turtleneck does not qualify).

Most bloggers are independent minded, too, so reigning them in is a challenge. 

In the meantime, startups such as “The Printed Blog” are making this happen *now.* The background on this publication, including a writeup on it from the New York Times, is here. (What I like: selling more reasonably-priced print ads until ad staffs get up to speed on selling to the Web. Yoo-hoo, we’re waiting.)

These are good people at “The Printed Blog,” among other enterpreneurs, who “get it.” As it turns out, journalists with experience in *both* print and online, such as myself, are in high demand now. We’re helping outfits such as “The Printed Blog” get off the ground.

It reminds me of the early days at CNET, an online publication that I helped start in the mid-’90s that was a “home run,” at least for us pioneers.

Journalism isn’t dead; it’s just changing. Stay tuned.

Beware: Unmarked CHPs patrolling Highway 49

Returning from the “flatlands” on Tuesday, I noticed unmarked CHPs patrolling Highway 49 and writing speeding tickets galore.

Beware the “Chips” behind the wheel of innocent-looking American-made sedans!

This reminds me of the police cars on the outer islands of Hawaii —  all of a sudden a blue light appears out of nowhere.

It’s good for all of us, though: Highway 49 is a narrow road where people speed all too often. Grant dollars are at work.

Be careful out there.

Can Nevada City stay incorporated long term?

images23It’s a question I increasingly wonder about: Nevada City is one of the smallest incorporated cities in the state, at about 3,000 people.

I value living in an incorporated city, compared with the challenges of living in the rest of 95959 (sewage woes at Cascade Shores, for example).

But the long-term trend for us at three-digit addresses in NC raises concerns:

•Flat to declining population in an economic “cul de sac.” In addition, a lot of people don’t earn much — and, in turn, generate enough tax revenue. The pot of money needed for police, fire, sewer and City Hall is getting smaller, not bigger.

•Public safety. Our police force is costly — and not always as tightly run and effective as it should be. At some point, you have to consider cutting a deal with the county Sheriff’s Office instead.

•Fire protection. Nevada City Fire Department does a great job, but we greatly depend on other fire-fighting agencies for emergency calls as well. Is this cost effective?

•The cost of retiring/hiring government workers. The city manager, police chief, city engineer, public works director, among others, all are nearing retirement. We share the burden of their retirement costs, as well as finding the money to hire their replacements at competitive wages.

The No. 1 problem the city faces is a declining tax base to pay for the growing cost of government. We also face some divisive “cultural” issues: people who try to “hijack” the city to further their own personal or political agendas but are not true stakeholders.

We face some tough choices down the road. We need to diversify our economy: attracting more families and creating more higher-paying jobs. We also need to separate the people who “use” Nevada City from the true stakeholders who really care about its future.

It’s time to buckle down, become more introspective and work together. Can we?