Citizen Keene

After a very confusing vote on a local school bond, I’ve stepped down from my old project Blue Hampshire, to start a local information site, called Citizen Keene.

There were an number of other reasons for stepping down — as a newly promoted Director at a public college, I wanted to move away from being a prominent figure in partisan politics. Additionally, the workload of running Blue Hampshire was significant, and did not fit into my new job.

But those are more reasons for stepping down from Blue Hampshire.

The reason I started Citizen Keene is I felt the flow of local information was broken. Talking to people after the school bond failure, I found time and time again that the people who hadn’t voted, or had voted in a way that they later regretted once they learned the facts — these people were often good friends with people who had the facts.

But for whatever reason this information just was not transmitted.

And it was significant information. Almost no one understood what the rejection of the bond meant. The rejection of the bond didn’t save money — because a stay against enforcing certain code violations at the current middle school was predicated on the new school being built.

The upshot? The town will now spend $7 million dollars on band-aid fixes in the next two years, the school auditorium and industrial arts wing will close for at least three years, and current 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders will likely spend their middle school years in portable trailer.

The turnout was 16%. The bond failed by 24 votes. Now that the vote is over, there’s no end of people that didn’t vote or voted it down who believe they weren’t provided the information they needed to make the decision. No one would have voted this way had they had the facts.

It’s easy to look at that and say, well, you should have just done your homework.

But I’ve never seen that response solve anything. On the whole the amount of time that people are willing to put toward these things is constant. If you can get that information to them more efficiently you can change things. But you’re not going to shame them into spending more time to become informed. It just doesn’t work that way.

So Citizen Keene isn’t about technology, or Facebook coolness, or IPOs. It’s about the fact my 3rd grade daughter is likely to spend her middle school years in a trailer while they fix fire code issues in a school the town had been trying to move out of since 1968. And that’s going to happen because information flow is broken, and I want to fix that.

In coming days, I hope to explain why I chose the technoogy I did to build the site, and what the relation of this experiment is to academic technology and online communications. So please stay tuned, even is this doesn’t seem like it ties into the traditional subjects of this blog. It all ties in I promise, and will be useful to everybody from professors to college web editors.

But it does start with my daughter’s future, and it has a deep meaning to me. That’s step one.

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