Town eyeing online surveys

BAR HARBOR — The town government here is set to begin using an online polling service to enhance communication with voters.

Resident Nina St. Germain brought a proposal for the town to begin using Polco, a subscription service allowing towns and schools to collect feedback on town issues, to the Town Council last week.

The move comes after a contentious campaign this spring about cruise ships, parking meters and other issues.

“We need to create a platform for us to hear each other more effectively,” resident Carol Chappell said during the public comment period of the meeting.

“What we’re experiencing here with division is not uncommon,” St. Germain said. “I don’t think what we’re doing is enough. If people can’t come to meetings, how do they engage?”

The Polco platform allows town officials to ask a specific yes or no question. Voters respond online, using a “widget” that can be embedded on the town’s website or linked on social media. The software has a system to ensure that only Bar Harbor voters may weigh in on questions. People can only vote once on a given question and can only leave comments after they have voted, St. Germain said.

“You have to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ before you can see the comments,” she said.

Councilors unanimously approved spending up to $8,700 for a year of the service, $4,800 of which would come from unused funds designated for St. Germain’s communication project approved earlier this year. She and Ron Beard are set to present findings from that project in July.

Most of the cost would be in hiring a part-time staff person to oversee “integration” of the service into town processes.

“I think we’ve got to try something,” council Chair Paul Paradis said. “We’re going to probably make some mistakes, but I don’t know how else to get there.”

St. Germain said she hopes other Mount Desert Island towns will consider using the service as well, opening up possibilities for discussion of islandwide issues.

“The questions that we’re facing really affect all of the towns,” Councilor Gary Friedmann agreed. “None of these issues end at our town line.”

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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