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Posted on Tue, Aug 14, 2012 : 10:47 a.m.

Want to give your opinion to Ann Arbor officials? Skip meeting and try new virtual town hall forum

By Ben Freed

Ann Arbor residents can now comment on specific issues online rather than coming to city council or community input meetings.

The Ann Arbor Open City Hall is an online forum that allows people to post suggestions for city projects and to “support” each others statements with the click of a button.

The first topic brought forward for virtual public comment is the South State Street corridor.

Commenters are encouraged to make statements detailing what they would like to see happen as the city develops the area.

Participants are encouraged to use their real names and addresses in the forum. Names can be withheld from comments, but addresses are used to identify individuals by ward and distance from the project being addressed.

The forum opened on Monday, and as of Tuesday morning 48 people had viewed the town hall, leaving four statements and three “supports.” The forum allows comments to be sorted by how recently they were made or by the amount of supporting clicks they have garnered. A word cloud can also be used to identify trends in the statements.


Screenshot from

Peak Democracy, a company that currently operates 745 forums in communities across the country from Decatur, Ga. to Washoe County, Nev., runs the forum. According to the company’s website, the open town halls “have the order and decorum of government meetings - making them civil and legal, as well as insightful.”

Ben Freed covers business for Reach him at 734-623-2528 or email him at Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2


Roger Kuhlman

Fri, Aug 17, 2012 : 2:10 a.m.

Sounds like it could be a good idea if city officials really listen to you. If they don't, virtual public forums are nothing but empty posturing.

say it plain

Wed, Aug 15, 2012 : 4:28 p.m.

Looking at the Peak Democracy website, you can see that this is a service being sold to governments. For a community of our size, it seems, the fee (yearly? hard to tell at first) is something like $7K per year. Not too bad a cost, I suppose, if it is actually useful. I'd love to know more about how the city decided to spend it...does Peak Democracy advertise to localities to market their wares? Are there competitors?

Joel A. Levitt

Wed, Aug 15, 2012 : 1:40 p.m.

I have joined. This is a wonderful advance for citizen participation in governance. Two additions might be valuable -- include the City Council agenda for the next meeting, and allow citizens to initiate discussions.


Wed, Aug 15, 2012 : 12:50 p.m.

The Ann Arbor Open City Hall site says "City officials will read the statements and incorporate them into their decision process." Anyone believe that? How many comments made at City Council meetings or Community Input Meetings have been " incorporated into their decision process." ?

peg dash fab

Wed, Aug 15, 2012 : 12:07 a.m.

I am dying to hear what Thomas Partridge thinks.


Tue, Aug 14, 2012 : 6:28 p.m.

oh yes because I would feel much better about being virtually ignored as opposed to really ignored.


Tue, Aug 14, 2012 : 6:19 p.m.

I'm really doubtful that the first idea that came up on the forum is the "State Street Corridor." That sounds like an idea the was pseudo submitted by the "Briarwood DDA" wannabees or the mayor. That makes it sound as though the open forum is a controlled forum.

Linda Peck

Tue, Aug 14, 2012 : 6:10 p.m.

This is a great idea and I have joined it. Thanks for this article, Mr. Freed.


Tue, Aug 14, 2012 : 5:59 p.m.

There is a fundamental misrepresentation in this announcement: This is not a channel for the citizens to communicate their concerns to the city government. Instead, the powers-that-be choose the topic and phrase the questions. In political campaign lingo, this is known as a push poll.


Tue, Aug 14, 2012 : 5:56 p.m.

I don't see anything in here saying anything about the governing officials monitoring this, or it having any effect on their decisiosn, priorities, etc. Is this some kind of partnership with the city council and/or governing officials, or is this just some disconnected bulletin board/blog?

David Cahill

Tue, Aug 14, 2012 : 5:37 p.m.

This is a really great way for us to more easily get involved in community decisions! I joined the forum yesterday. I had a problem logging in, but it was fixed almost immediately.

Ron Granger

Tue, Aug 14, 2012 : 4:50 p.m.

Are there any plans for a drive-thru version of this?


Tue, Aug 14, 2012 : 4:13 p.m.

If you thought commenters were annoying...


Tue, Aug 14, 2012 : 4:11 p.m.

Democracy by remote control is coming. This may be a feint to divert public ire/desire. Unless paper ballots/receipts return to voters, there will be an app for governance, too. People can bank, shop, mail, work, and now even access health records by an app - so why not vote? The ruling parties hate it for reasons obvious in the comments posted on this rag - power. Experts will show you how easy hacking test polls can be. How scarey it all is. Yet the same is true for any new software system - even by haachooapplemicrosoftetal. That hasn't stopped the world from turning yet. So why not a portable plebiscite? While it is nice for politicians to funnel one or two online topics towards the sublime, true remote democracy is coming - soon.


Tue, Aug 14, 2012 : 7:42 p.m.

What a relief! I kept wondering how representatives themselves decided the outcome of their machines.- by taking a vote?

Dog Guy

Tue, Aug 14, 2012 : 7:16 p.m.

I am certain, LXIX, that this virtuous town hall forum will be just as rigidly protected from chicanery as is the electronic counting of Ann Arbor ballots.

tom swift jr.

Tue, Aug 14, 2012 : 4:10 p.m.

Do we really need further disconnect from voters?

Dog Guy

Tue, Aug 14, 2012 : 3:55 p.m.

This is an innovative way for the city hall cabal to ignore citizen input while avoiding the disagreeable presence of mere citizens.

Bertha Venation

Tue, Aug 14, 2012 : 4:38 p.m.

I think City Hall already knows my opinions.... I'd only be deleted and blocked anyway. Hail King John!

Bertha Venation

Tue, Aug 14, 2012 : 4:36 p.m.

Indeed, DG. "I'm sorry... The system must have been down."