Morrisville leaders want more residents engaged in town affairs, and they’re hoping to increase involvement by making the town more visible and tech-friendly.
The town is in the middle of a campaign to rebrand its image and is spending about $50,000 for Mottis, a Sanford-based marketing firm, to execute the campaign.
The months-long process includes interviewing community leaders, conducting a survey of Morrisville residents, designing logos, signs and banners and thinking up possible slogans.
The survey has ended, but not before getting more than 650 responses, “which kind of blows every other survey that we’ve done in this manner out of the water,” town spokeswoman Stephanie Smith said.
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“So I’m confident that we got the full spectrum of views.”
Mayor Mark Stohlman said the rebranding is something he and other town leaders have wanted for some time to have a consistent and engaging presence around town. He said that if people identify with their town more, they’re more likely to get engaged in local government.
“Certainly we value citizen input,” Stohlman said. “And while we have our own opinions about things, it’s nice when the public speaks up and tells you you’re on the right track, or not.”
When Stohlman was a council member last year, he presented a slideshow detailing the variety of “Welcome to Morrisville” signs around town, identifying at least eight different designs using circles, squares, rectangles, triangles and trapezoids. He argued that the signs are haphazard, confusing and “just aren’t welcoming,”
“I think the rebranding will be a nice effort to overall freshen our website,” Stohlman said. “And driving around town and seeing these new signs, I think that will also get people thinking about the town more.”
The image campaign is just one strategy the town is using to make government more accessible to its residents. The town recently revamped some of its under-performing citizen advisory boards, and several council-members have vistited meetings of civic groups or Boy Scout troops to talk about local government.
In October, the Morrisville Town Council held a meeting outside Town Hall for the first time in two decades, honoring leaders from the influential Indian community and updating attendees on a number of upcoming or potential projects.
The meeting drew several hundred people, a far cry from the typical sparsly attended meetings. Stohlman called the meeting a success, although there are no immediate plans for another meeting outside of Town Hall.
The town also has set aside a room for council members to meet with residents one-on-one. Council members have long held office hours at Town Hall but previously had nowhere to meet except the large council chamber.
Representatives from Mottis, who executed a similar campaign for the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, will return to the council in January with their suggestions and to receive input. The campaign could be approved in April.
Stolhman has suggested offering sponsorship opportunities for the new town signs to keep costs down, a plan he said former Mayor Jackie Holcombe didn’t support.
Using technology to engage people
In addition to revamping the look of the town’s website, Councilman Steve Rao said he wants the website to be more interactive to help residents or potential developers.
“Most of the data we have is still there, but it’s in PDF documents,” Rao said. “It’s data you can read but can’t do anything with.”
He also said he wants residents to be able to share their opinions with town leaders online or with a mobile app for the town. Sometimes, he said, he thinks residents have opinions but aren’t sure how to share them with officials and staff.
At October’s town meeting, Raleigh City Councilman Bonner Gaylord gave a presentation about how Raleigh has combined mobile technology and open data to get Raleigh residents more involved.
Both Raleigh and Morrisville are included in an app called SeeClickFix, which allows users to submit complaints about everything from potholes and graffiti to road kill and litter. The app uses a mobile device’s GPS to pinpoint an exact location and alerts town staff.
Rao said there’s more potential for similar apps the town or a private company could develop, such as helping people find parking spots in town.
Gaylord said residents tend to view government like a vending machine into which they pay taxes and receive services. But in their view, the vending machine tends to malfunction frequently, he said, and technology is a way for them to “hack” that vending machine to have a better experience.
“Technology’s promise for government is significant,” he said. “I’ve had people tell me, on multiple occasions, it’s their best interaction with government ever. Which is high praise.”