WATPA: FW: NY Times - "E-Mail Slips to the Bottom of City Hall's In Box"

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From: Norm Jacknis (norm@jacknis.com)
Date: Thu Oct 03 2002 - 23:58:49 EDT


October 3, 2002

E-Mail Slips to the Bottom of City Hall's In Box


MOST mayors and city council members routinely receive e-mail from
constituents. While they say the messages help them to understand public
opinion better, they still give more weight to opinions expressed in
meetings, letters and telephone calls, according to a study released
yesterday by the National League of Cities and the Pew Internet and American
Life Project.

Of 520 municipal officials surveyed nationwide, 90 percent said they used
the Internet on the job, and nearly 80 percent said they had received e-mail
from constituents or local groups about civic issues. About 25 percent
reported that they heard from constituents by e-mail every day.

More than half of the officials said that e-mail brought them into contact
with individuals from whom they had never heard before and that the
electronic communication improved their relations with community groups
"We definitely hear from more people that way, and that is certainly the
value to it," said Ken Genser, a city councilman in Santa Monica, Calif.

However, about half of the Internet-using officials surveyed said that
opinions expressed through meetings and phone calls carried the most weight.
More than a quarter said that letters carried the most weight. By contrast,
only 14 percent said they gave serious weight to opinions expressed by

"The communications that take more time and energy are the ones that are
going to carry the most weight," said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew

Mr. Genser, the councilman in Santa Monica, said: "I think the most
effective thing is to come to the council meeting and speak. It shows more

E-mail, he said, rates more as a signature on a petition, especially if
messages arrive as part of a lobbying campaign. The key for constituents, he
said, is to produce a thoughtful message regardless of the delivery system.

Still, Mr. Rainie said, the findings about e-mail communication are
encouraging. "There are ways for citizens to use these tools to have their
voices heard,'' he said.

The telephone remains the primary tool for contacting City Hall: 64 percent
of officials said they received most of their communications from
constituents by telephone.

Another study has also cast doubt on the effectiveness of e-mail for getting
a message through to government. Results of a survey by researchers at Brown
University, released two weeks ago, showed a poor response rate to e-mail by
state government officials.

Researchers for the university's Taubman Center for Public Policy sent
messages to human services departments in all 50 states. Only 55 percent of
the e-mail messages were answered.

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