Mon
Aug 4 2014
12:04 pm

In their latest newsletter, MPC advises that they are setting up a single email address for communication with MPC Commissioners - commission@knoxmpc.org - and you can also see a blurb about it on their website.

I think that is great, but then they also make it clear that they are judging from their website, it looks like they may be doing away with individual email addresses for Commissioners, which is not so great.

I have heard from a couple of Commissioners who said that some of them have received threatening or vulgar communications and it was thought that having a single email address for all would stop that from happening.

My feeling is that if someone receives a threatening email, it should be reported to the Sheriff, and it is not a good reason to prevent the public from communicating with individual Commissioners.

City Council, County Commission and the School Board all provide individual email addresses as well as a joint address and I don't see why MPC should be any different. If someone doesn't want individual communication with the public, perhaps they should rethink their service on MPC.

I recognize that service on MPC Commission is a thankless and unpaid job and I appreciate those who choose to serve. But I do think it is important that they be accessible to the public, and not just through a joint email address.

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23
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Sandra Clark's picture

Agree

that joint address would make it tough to complain about management, wouldn't it?

Reader's picture

If you go to this page:

If you go to this page: (link...) you can still see individual contact info for the Commissioners, both by phone,e-mail, and postal service mailing address.

Appears to be a convenience item.

Lisa Starbuck's picture

Some remain

Some individual addresses remain, although many have been changed to the generic. The top of page says they are getting ready to republish contact information and it isn't clear if the remaining addresses will go away. My feeling is that in 2014, all Commissioners should have email addresses so that the public can contact them individually if desired.

Lisa Starbuck's picture

Joint Address

Good point Sandra! Although the reasons I have used the individual addresses in the past are usually related to questions about a specific agenda item, sometimes it is to ask an individual's opinion about something or to get advice.

I just think it is bad public policy and evidently one that is being implemented without public input. If you go to the Commissioner's contact page, you can see that most of the addresses have been changed to the generic (although not all).

Rachel's picture

Actually, I think this is

Oh good grief - this actually merited an entire thread?

Actually, I think this is easier for people who want to contact Commission. It gives them one email address to type instead of 15.

And it's not a good idea for email on an MPC agenda item to only go to one Commissioner; everybody should see all communications from the public. Commissioners try to share those emails now, but it's a cumbersome process.

Individual phone #s are still listed, which makes it possible to contact an individual with a question.

There's a movement at the moment to criticize everything and anything MPC does. But this seems completely benign to me, and helpful to both MPC Commissioners and the public. We're straining at gnats here, folks.

post edited to remove incorrect info.

Lisa Starbuck's picture

Individual email

I think if you will look carefully at Council's addresses, each person has an individual address, as is the same at Commission.

cwg's picture

Yeah

Lisa's right - each Council or Commission member might have a City or County-sponsored address - and that is ditto for KCS too - but emailing one is not emailing all. I know, having done it frequently for all three bodies.

Rachel's picture

n/t

ok, I see what you're saying. I was looking at it incorrectly.

Nevertheless, I stand by the rest of my comment.

And I'll add that there is a significant difference between elected bodies and MPC Commissioners, and that is that Council/Commission members sponsor individual pieces of legislation. MPC Commissioners obviously don't do that.

Laura's picture

This version of the story won't sell papers

MPC is NOT doing away with individual e-mails.

This change was made as an effort to improve a process and to make things a little easier to manage. The web site clearly states this is a NEW PROCESS and INPUT IS WELCOME.

Some commissioners are creating special e-mail accounts and not all have been updated. The MPC site will end up looking a lot like the County Commission web site so please hold your fire until it is finished.

Important to note that all are accessible by phone (but not all have e-mail) and any e-mail sent to an individual commissioner should be forwarded to MPC as part of public record. All e-mails are subject to sunshine.

This was discussed at length in public and that is all there is to it.

I should also point out that Knox County Board of Zoning Appeals uses ONLY a generic e-mail as contact for board members. City BZA lists only phone numbers.

Lisa Starbuck's picture

From the Newsletter

Here's the exact text from the newsletter. As I said in my post, I agree that it is a good thing to have a way to send to all commissioners at once (and it looks like the same message goes to a bunch of unnamed staff also) if one chooses. However, I notice that several email addresses that previously were listed have been replaced with the common email address, so I think I have a valid point.

Contacting the Planning Commissioners

MPC is streamlining the process for contacting planning commissioners. With an ever-increasing volume of citizen comments coming in the form of email, we needed a more efficient way of managing and distributing those comments so each planning commissioner receives the same information before each meeting. Beginning on July 14, emails sent to commission@knoxmpc.org will be automatically sent to every planning commissioner, as well as several staff members. This process simplifies things on both ends of the e-mail: planning commissioners and staff have access to all correspondence in one place and citizens don't have to find email addresses for 15 commissioners. As always, we welcome your feedback as we introduce this new process. Learn More >>

If you click on Learn More, it just takes you to the commission website. There is no "learn more" about this issue.

Rachel, I think your tone is a little out of line, especially since you were incorrect. A simple apology covers a lot of ills.

As for your "straining at gnats" comment, I do think this is a perfectly valid thing to discuss in this forum or elsewhere. Your comment about there being a movement to complain about MPC does not belong in this thread, unless you are trying to bring up the whole Mark Donaldson/Dave Hill insider hiring issue for discussion.

Rachel's picture

My tone is just fine, thank

My tone is just fine, thank you. And I admitted where I was incorrect, but my main point is valid.

The rest of y'all should probably pay some attention to Laura wrt the email thing. Since she's actually a planning commissioner, she probably has some idea what she's talking about.

Lisa Starbuck's picture

Snark

Rachel, you started the snark and then went back and removed the parts of your post that were wrong after it was pointed out. I really don't know why you're attacking me, but whatever.

Yes, Laura is a planning commissioner and I respect her opinion. But I was told by 3 different commissioners in response to the email I sent to commission@knoxmpc.org about this issue before I ever posted anything, that the private emails were going away in response to uncomfortable emails from the public.

The creation of a single email address to simultaneously reach everyone isn't the issue - that has been the case for Commission for some time and as I have said repeatedly - I think that is fine for those times when one wants to email everyone. But again, I was specifically told that the individual emails were removed because some commissioners didn't want to get individual ones anymore.

Rachel's picture

I had the facts incorrect in

I had the facts incorrect in my post about Council and Commission email. I not only said so in a subsequent post, I edited the original post to remove the incorrect language and added a note saying I'd edited it to do so! Not exactly the actions of somebody trying who can't admit when they're wrong.

And please show me where I attacked you - and if it's the "straining at gnats" thing, that's not much of an attack.

I've spent way too more time already on a thread that doesn't merit that much attention. So yes, as you said, whatever. I'm done. You can have the last word if you want it.

bizgrrl's picture

Am I correct that a person

Am I correct that a person corresponding with an MPC Commissioner is not expecting a reply? What if you wanted a reply from a particular commissioner? I'm guessing that if all emails go to all MPC Commissioners that the majority of emails will not be read until right before a meeting, if then.

Based on the current contact list for MPC Commissioners, it does not look like the commissioners had actual knoxmpc.org emails. I think at a minimum, commissioners should have been and should be supplied individual knoxmpc.org emails. The commissioners should not have had to create a private email for MPC business (e.g. herb@claibornehauling.com, bartcarey@comcast.net, eason.mpc@gmail.com, etc.).

Lisa Starbuck's picture

New Addresses

According to Laura, it appears there are going to be new email addresses added for each commissioner at some point, similar to the addresses for county commissioners.

I have edited my original post to add a question mark to the title since Laura has stated that the individual addresses are not disappearing, although it certainly looked that way since several commissioners' addresses have been changed to the generic.

Lisa Starbuck's picture

Good Intentions?

I agree that is what should have been done at a minimum. It seems to me that if that was the plan all along (to create individual *@knoxmpc.org addresses), they would have done that before making the announcement to avoid any confusion.

Laura's picture

more than you ever wanted to know about MPC e-mail

Commissioners make the call on whether or not to return phone calls or e-mails to individuals. There are some situations where there are too many e-mails and phone calls to answer. Most of us try to respond but that can be tricky as demonstrated in this thread. There is also the matter of Ex Parte contact but that is another thread for another day.

The problem is/was there was not a consistent approach to handling e-mail. Some commissioners used their personal or business e-mail addresses. Some created a special account for all MPC e-mails on their own. I agree - at a minimum, we should have had individual e-mails and that is where I hoped we would end up. We made an effort to standardize the way we manage e-mail - that is all. We notified the public and asked for input.

Imagine my surprise when I received a call from a reporter asking for the source of this request. Part of the conversation involved inappropriate e-mails. Someone suggested a departmental e-mail would discourage inappropriate e-mails. No one believed it would stop those e-mails entirely and this was not the main purpose for the change. Another commissioner suggested we allow both generic and individual e-mails. Seemed reasonable at the time AND this approach offered more options than both city and county boards (BZA).

If all e-mails go to general e-mail it is MORE likely they will be read and become part of the record. Staff will bring last minute e-mails and put it on top of our packets as the meeting begins. If that e-mail goes to an individual, all bets are off. There are times when e-mails are rolling in as I drive to a meeting. I may not have time to read them and I won't have time to send to staff until the meeting has passed. Some commissioners will not check their e-mail until they get back to their home or office. Some may assume everyone got the same e-mail and will not bother to forward. This is a problem with e-mails that do not disclose the identity of the sender or recipients.

Apologies in advance to those who may faint/die of boredom while reading about MPC e-mail policies. I hope it clarifies a few things.

Bad Paper's picture

With all respect, what you

With all respect, what you are doing sounds too much like what the School Board is doing with Public Forum. I think you should re-think this. It gives the impression that those group emails go into a place where they will not be read. I don't think that is the impression you want to give.

Laura's picture

Let me clarify

You are correct. I did not mean to give that impression. Let me try again.

The general e-mail automatically forwards messages to every commissioner and staff members responsible for consolidating this information for public record. These e-mails go to a place where everyone will have access - including the public.

Norma's picture

Please correct me if I am wrong

Please correct me if I am missing something but cannot find any mention of public discussion of this topic on the MPC website. I've skimmed agenda review minutes and agendas for 2014 as well as Executive Committee minutes for the last year and see no mention of the new contact system.

I am not doubting Laura's recollection. I'm guessing the topic was piggybacked on another meeting. But if you don't notify the public that a topic will be discussed and then don't report that it was discussed can you really claim the discussion was public?

Now the question is, is this an isolated incident of something being left out of the meeting record or a pattern of behavior? And is the deletion of personal emails (whether or not they return in the future more than half are gone now) an innocent mistake, simply bad planning and execution, or am attempt to limit public access?

Rachel's picture

On second thought

My instinct not to comment further about this was the right one.

Norma's picture

Too bad you didn't follow that instinct

instead of posting an uncalled for and belittling comment about new people who wanted to join the conversation and then deleting it after it was seen.

Nice manners. I appreciate the hearty welcome.

Rachel's picture

I'm trying really hard to

I'm trying really hard to stick to my "no further comments on this matter" stance.

I will say that I find it disheartening that this can generate a 22 post thread while the MPC agenda items every month that deal with important land use decisions are mostly ignored.

Up Goose Creek's picture

Agenda items

What agenda items have you started a discussion about recently that have been ignored?

metulj's picture

I think Rachel is pointing to

I think Rachel is pointing to the fact that most items on planning commission agendas receive little notice from the public, yet, despite seeming innocuous requests from land owners and developers, this vast majority of items contain all sorts of bad policy, land use, and environmental decisions. The flashpoint items (read: oxen to be gored) are often just a single case of these phenomena and/or somewhat intended distractions from the blood and guts on the floor of the sausage factory.

Rachel's picture

Thanks, metulj. I wouldn't

Thanks, metulj. I wouldn't go nearly so far as to say "vast majority," nor do I necessarily think that "flashpoint items" are to distract, but...

you've got the main point. I would like to see more people reading MPC agenda packets and paying attention to the issues decided (well, most aren't really DECIDED, since they have to go on to Council or Commission, but anyway) each month.

If folks have time to get worked over this email thing, it would be nice if they would also find time to regularly follow and share info on MPC actions (and this does not apply to Lisa, who I know does that).

(And goose, I'm not the MPC reviewer for KnoxViews. And there are also city-related issues I can't speak to here any more.)

Lisa Starbuck's picture

Public Input

In spite of the fact that some people keep trying to minimize this issue, obviously I think it is important enough to post about and some folks agree.

The reason it is important is because most people do not have time to go to a MPC meeting and/or make phone calls and the best way to communicate in 2014 for most things is via email.

I hear all the arguments about a single email and I agree it is useful in some situations. But let me also say that there are times when I do NOT want to email everyone and the unnamed staff people.

For example, I recently sent an email to everyone on the school board regarding the proposed charter school.

I received back an ugly email from one of the school board members saying that if I wanted to influence somebody, maybe I should think about not supporting her opponent in the on-going school board race.

I just sent another email this morning to the school board about the strategic plan. Obviously, I did NOT send the email to this lame duck member because I don't want to engage her at all. Will she see my email through other means? Maybe. But I am not landing something in her email box for her to comment on.

And getting back to MPC, I notice that today they have updated the contact information sheet. Guess what? Out of 15 commissioners, 8 of them only have the group email address listed. This indicates to me that either that is what they planned all along, or their webmaster is extremely slow in creating email addresses. Here is the UPDATED contact sheet. I am still wondering when commissioners will actually get individual email addresses, although Laura has said that is going to happen soon. Assuming they do, would it have happened had I not made it an issue?

As the veteran of many a public battle over a variety of issues, I know how difficult engaging the public can be. Email is an excellent tool for getting people involved, especially those who can't come to meetings or who won't make phone calls. Maybe there is a commissioner they feel is already opposed to their issue and don't want to email them. Maybe they don't want staff to receive their messages because they are complaining about a staff member. In my opinion, commissioners should be easy to contact individually as well as jointly. Hopefully this will soon be the case.

Up Goose Creek's picture

Agenda

Rachel, would you be willing to post a link to the MPC agenda when they go live. As a reminder to those of us who may be interested.

I know you are busy now but maybe someone could take the time to mention items out of the ordinary.

Am I right that a lot of MPC is taken up with setbacks that are only of interest to the neighbors, rezonings that may or may not have wider implications. The MPC is good about mailing postcards to nearby property owners but it would be good to read about issues of wider concern.

I don't have cable so can't tune into "the MPC show" on a regular basis.

cwg's picture

If you've got internet, you

If you've got internet, you can watch meetings online. You can also subscribe to MPC emails that send out links when agendas are posted and such.

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