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Online Community Lesson

 

 If It’s Broke, We Need to Fix It

Teacher-authored with student research

       Some important facts do not make the evening news.  For example, have any of us heard that Congress receives more than two hundred million (200,000,000) e-mail every year?  Let’s do the math:  that comes to an average of three hundred seventy-one thousand (371,000) e-mail per member of Congress, if we include the three non-voting members.  That is an average of more than one thousand four hundred e-mail per working day.  If a member’s staff worked nonstop for eight hours a day (yes, such would be inhuman and inhumane), answering each constituent e-mail in one minute, the member would have to dedicate three staff people to this task—and probably would have a high “burn out” and turnover among staff. 

So, what is to be done?  Congress has implemented a solution:   

…some congressional offices have added authentication measures to their Web forms, restricting the flow of constituent communications to members.

”Congress Curtails Constituent E-mail”, Susie Gordon, Capital Advantage, as reprinted in Philanthropy Journal, July 31, 2006.
 

       Even assuming that this is a legitimate solution (there are those who say “no”), could any member’s staff possibly answer all communications timely and adequately, even if half the communications were blocked by this solution?  Obviously, no.
 

        A member of E-News team 8 asked city hall, the county supervisor’s district office, and the congressional member’s district office about their preferred means of communication.  Here are the results:

 

Type of Communication

City Hall

Supervisor Molina’s Office

Congressional Member Napolitano’s Office

Letter

1 (most preferred)

Preferred

No preference

Telephone

2

Preferred

Ditto

E-mail

3

 

Ditto

Fax

4

 

Ditto

Visit district office

5

Preferred

Ditto

Attend event where there is a field representative

6

Preferred

Ditto

Petition

7 (least preferred)

 

Ditto

          If you answer the multiple-choice questions below and e-mail to lessonanswers@mymontebello.com, with “E-News answers” in the subject field, you will be credited toward a “certificate of recognition in community affairs” to be awarded in 2007 by a local nonprofit organization. 

    1. What is the root cause of a member of Congress receiving too many communications?

        (a) the ease with which constituents use e-mail.

        (b) too few staff people to answer communications.

        (c) too many constituents depending on the member for solutions. 

    2. What would be most helpful to an elected official trying to answer constituent communications?

        (a) A bigger budget with which to hire more staff.

        (b) Constituents organizing semimonthly meetings to which a large number of constituents would be invited, where there could be questions and answers.

        (c) Constituents setting up a nonpartisan survey organization and continually communicating survey results to the elected official. 

     3. What is the best way in which you could help to solve this problem?

        (a) Volunteer time at the district office of an elected official.

        (b) With others, set up and run a nonpartisan survey organization as a business.

          (c) Contact elected officials and volunteer to sit on a constituent committee which would organize and run semimonthly meetings.

December 21, 2006

 

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