By Village of Weston Administrator Daniel Guild
March 11–17, 2018, is the annual celebration of Sunshine Week — a national initiative spearheaded by the American Society of News Editors to educate the public about the importance of open government and the dangers of excessive or unnecessary secrecy.
A few years ago, the Wisconsin Women’s Council, in partnership with the Wisconsin Newspaper Association and Wisconsin Broadcaster’s Association, created the ConnectWI program to recognize municipalities for excellence in providing easy access to online information on local public officials and open meetings. The Village of Weston was among the first 7 original winners of this recognition, and was among only 5 communities recognized with the Gold designation. Considering Wisconsin has nearly 400 units of local government, Weston’s recognition was a significant achievement. This award wasn’t easy to achieve, as evidenced by the low number of other local governments receiving the ConnectWI Gold distinction. So, which transparency initiatives assisted with the Village’s success?
· Email — All municipal officials and employees are issued an @westonwi.gov email address to manage their electronic correspondence with the public. The Board of Trustees, as a group, can be emailed by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
· Nextdoor — Nextdoor is a neighborhood-focused social media platform for the entire Village of Weston’s 11 distinct neighborhoods. This free service for individual users and the Village of Weston local government was developed to improve communication between neighbors, residents, and local businesses. Village of Weston staff have successfully helped the Town of Weston, the South Area Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) district set up an account on Nextdoor, and we’re working with officials at Marathon County to do the same.
· Public meetings —The Village of Weston holds meetings, which are open to the public almost every Monday afternoon and evening. Meetings are usually, with some exceptions, at 4:30 and 6:00 p.m. Each meeting has a public comment period for citizens to ask questions about issues in our community, and engage with appointed and elected officials. Meeting agendas and meeting packets of all documents being reviewed by Village officials are posted online. Meetings are always audio recorded, and official written minutes are taken at every meeting and also posted online.
· Social media presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, & Twitter — The Village of Weston maintains an active presence on social media for those citizens who prefer to use these platforms to engage with us. Aside from the multiple Village accounts, each Village department director has a Facebook and LinkedIn page to facilitate communication and community connections.
· Website — The Village’s redesigned website at www.westonwi.gov was a significant upgrade and investment from previous platforms. Did you know that everyone in the Village can create his or her own, personalized user account on our new website? Did you know that our website can send you an email or text message when content is added or changed on our website, so you don’t have to check to see what’s new? Weston is the ONLY local government agency in this metro area with a website offering these features.
· Weston E-news — Each Friday afternoon, a weekly electronic newsletter is sent out through email about upcoming public meetings, important announcements, and community events.
· Weston Wire — A bi-monthly printed newsletter is mailed to every physical address in the community. The last page of this newsletter always contains information on our public meetings and how to contact Village officials.
Do you want to be better connected to your local, Village government? Then I invite you to check out the communication venues listed above. If you’re not taking advantage of these community tools and you’d like our assistance getting signed up, I have a team of dedicated colleagues at the Weston Municipal Center who’d be happy to help you. If you’re interested in getting more involved in local government, perhaps you’d be a great candidate for our upcoming Future Weston Academy. You can learn more about this upcoming program on my Administrator’s Blog.
Officials and staff at the Village of Weston believe in the principles of Sunshine Week. If by chance you’re not very comfortable with technology, and your schedule inhibits your ability to attend our public meetings, you can always pick up the phone after work hours and contact me at 715-359-6114 or President Barb Ermeling at 715-359-4365.
Editor’s note: Submit guest columns for consideration to Wausau Pilot and Review by email or call 715-298-0233 for submission guidelines.