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Frisco gets 2,500 to town hall meeting -- by phone
[March 28, 2011]

Frisco gets 2,500 to town hall meeting -- by phone


Mar 26, 2011 (The Dallas Morning News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Involving more people in city government may be just a phone call away.

Frisco experimented this week with a technology that tapped registered voters by telephone and invited them to join a town hall meeting in progress.

The 2,527 people who stayed on to listen set a Frisco record for participation at a city meeting where 200 is more the norm.

"We're trying to figure out unorthodox ways to reach out to those that aren't involved," Mayor Maher Maso said. In a city of 120,000, "it's important for them to know what's happening." The city contracted with Curt Cerveny and his Colorado company, Telephone TownHall Meeting, to try to engage more residents.

Cerveny said the technology has been around since 2006. It's big among politicians on Capitol Hill, large groups such as alumni associations and employee unions, even foreign governments. Only recently has it been making inroads with cities and schools. Frisco was Cerveny's first Texas client.

The meetings can deliver information. Frisco focused on its May election and concerns related to Exide Technologies Inc.'s battery recycling plant.


They can do polling. Frisco's listeners overwhelmingly preferred Facebook over Twitter and YouTube.

They can even solicit money. Cerveny said a recent tea party meeting by telephone collected $5,000 in donations.

A key to the technology is being able to call constituents en masse. Cerveny matched Frisco's list of registered voters with publicly listed phone numbers. Nearly 15,000 calls went out just before 8 p.m. Monday. Of those, 5,276 went to voice mail, and 4,883 people hung up. Some phones went unanswered; others were fax numbers or disconnects.

Frisco listeners stayed an average of nine minutes, which is typical for city meetings, Cerveny said. Politicians get only about five to seven minutes of a person's time, he said.

"People are much more interested in their own backyard than they are about something going on in D.C.," Cerveny said.

Frisco has a few glitches to smooth out. The 150 or so people attending in person felt left out during the second half of the meeting that focused on the callers. And callers missed out on information delivered during the meeting's first hour.

Meeting topics are another issue. Texas law requires a city to stick to its agenda posted in advance. Callers had questions that the city couldn't address because the topics weren't on the agenda.

Frisco's final cost for its Telephone Town Hall: less than $3,500.

Several City Council members said they were pleased to connect with so many people.

"There's a lot we can improve on," council member Jeff Cheney said. "But this is a step in the right direction. It's the new way to host a town hall meeting in the 21st century." To see more of The Dallas Morning News, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.dallasnews.com. Copyright (c) 2011, The Dallas Morning News Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For more information about the content services offered by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services (MCT), visit www.mctinfoservices.com.

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