Columbus council votes to tweak online system for feedback

Anonymous suggestions led to wasted time, staff said


Paul Rignell
Columbus Reporter

A cyber suggestion box on the Columbus city website has been stuffed with advice, questions and complaints. Now, those using the tool for feedback will not be able to do so anonymously.

The mayor and council voted 3-2 on April 10 to require users to provide a valid email address for their information to be processed.

Officials said that some previously shared concerns have led staff to misuse their time by driving to parts of the city for correcting “problems” on gravel roads or in other public areas where there appear to have been no real problems, based on staff’s judgment.

Repeat offenders were compared to the fabled boy who cried wolf at the April 10 meeting.

“At what point do we not respond to that (repeated tip or suggestion)?” Mayor Dave Povolny asked. “The first, second or third time?”

City Administrator Elizabeth Mursko said that traditionally residents have been private when sharing any comments, good or bad.

“We’re very friendly people, and we would like to talk to them,” she said. “For some reason, people just don’t like to talk to us.”

Councilmember Denny Peterson has been the most vocal at recent meetings about a desire for seeking accountability from those using the online suggestion box.

“If (a person) doesn’t give an email address, it could be somebody playing games and just wasting time,” he said.

Deputy Clerk Emmy Robinson advised the council that they should not expect the most private citizens to be any more forthright with the change in the website rules.

“This person will probably put in a bogus email (address), or a dirty word like they do in elections (on ballots),” she said.

Councilmember Jessie Messina was one of two to vote against the change and said he felt this could deter some residents from leaving honest comments.

“I think we need an avenue for anonymity,” he said.

Other Business

The mayor and council moved to draft, sign and send a letter to the Minnesota Racing Commission with appreciation for the commission’s recent vote to table consideration of withdrawing a horse racing license from Running Aces Harness Park, which is the city’s largest employer.

The city officials agreed that the board should be thanked as a whole, despite the group’s 5-4 marginal vote on the critical decision as the council had discussed March 27.

City staff reported April 10 that Columbus will host other elected officials Tuesday, May 14, when the Anoka County Board visits the City Hall for one of its own regular meetings. County managers will meet 8:30 a.m. that day, followed by a county board business meeting at 9:30 a.m. The board is chaired in 2013 by Commissioner Rhonda Sivarajah, whose district includes Columbus, Linwood and all other communities along the county’s eastern border.

Mursko told Columbus officials that the county board will be leaving its regular home in Anoka for a few meetings throughout the year.