Have something to say about Cary? Take it online

akenney@newsobserver.comAugust 12, 2013 

  • How to have your say

    Go to www.caryhaveyoursay.com to weigh in on popular topics in town, including development.

— People have been arguing about Cary on the Internet since the days of Lycos and AOL. Now they can do it on a town-owned website that could shape the future of Cary.

Launched late last month, Cary Have Your Say is a “MindMixer,” better known as an online bulletin board. Town staff post topics and questions, prompting discussions that allow users to talk both to the government and to each other.

For now, the $6,000-per-year project will gather public opinion for the Imagine Cary long-range planning effort, but it eventually could be used for all kinds of topics.

In its first week of operation, CaryHaveYourSay.com attracted 581 visitors, including 115 “active users” who made comments and “seconded” opinions on three questions. They talked about their favorite parts of town and the places they saw opportunities for change.

The website is for “ideas, options, comments, feelings, beliefs,” said Jeff Ulma, the town’s planning director. “Just like they would do in the old days, when somebody had an IBM Selectric typewriter and they would write a letter. It’s just a newfangled way. It’s a modern way of collecting opinion.”

The most popular early posts included calls for wooded neighborhoods and roads, protections for Jordan Lake, redevelopment of strip malls, construction of sidewalks and the preservation of rural areas.

Another benefit of the web interface: data. With the click of a button, a town planner would see that only 11 percent of the early participants are between the ages of 25 and 34. The average age of the first users was 50, and 61 percent were women.

Eventually, the town may have to deal with issues such as profanity, but no post yet has required moderation, according to Ulma.

And, of course, even a digitally enhanced conversation won’t make everyone happy. Even a wildly popular post is no guarantee that the town will oblige the writer’s request.

Ultimately, all the comments on each topic will be sorted and considered by staff and elected officials, same as always.

“It doesn’t matter how you collect public or citizen input, you still are in the position of having to sort through it, figure it out,” Ulma said. “In the end, somebody’s got to make the call of what do you do with that input.”

But the new interface, he said, may make it easier and more tempting for people to join the fray.

Kenney: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @KenneyOnCary

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