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King County seeks volunteers for community outreach forums

A new citizen outreach program in King County has registered more than 700 people to take part in community forums across the county.

Countywide Community Forums is a network where people gather in small groups throughout King County to discuss current issues and provide important feedback to county government. The program is administered by Dick’s Drive-In founder Dick Spady’ and his two sons, John and Jim, who were appointed to serve as the program’s first volunteer coordinators. The program is overseen by the county auditor.

Dick Spady created the forum to supplement King County’s traditional public hearing process by making it easier and more comfortable for people to share their opinions on important public issues. The program requires at least 1,000 people to enroll before it can begin. Participants must live or work in King County, agree to meet three or four times each year, and commit to spending about two hours per meeting. High school and college students who attend school in King County are also welcome to participate as part of a class project on civics, political science, or communications.

Instead of gathering at a big meeting at one place and time, where only a few people can talk and most have to listen, the Countywide Community Forums program asks volunteers to meet in small groups at times and places convenient to them. Because participants meet in groups of only a handful of people, every participant has time to comfortably share his or her opinions with other members of the group before the open discussion period begins — a process which Spady thinks will be “very similar to talking with friends and family around the dinner table.”

First, everyone watches the same short video and reads the same summary of the key facts and different perspectives on the issue for discussion. Before participants leave their meeting, everyone fills out a detailed written survey that asks specific questions about the current topic and also asks participants which topic they would like to discuss next.

The surveys are then tabulated with the results posted on the Web and shared with government officials and the media.

The topic for the first round of forums is “Transportation – Public Priorities, Choices and Funding.”

To join, visit CountywideCommunityForums.org/, call (206) 296-1633 or e-mail to CommunityForums@KingCounty.gov.

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