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Working for Democracy

Johnson County Library
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Innovation Leader: Whitney Davison, Information & Reader Services Manager, Central Resource Library, Johnson County Library, turleyw@jocolibrary.org

Problem Statement

As the recession deepened in 2009 and residents worried about their economic survival and their future quality of life, the Johnson County Library looked for a means to connect county residents with officials who could respond to their questions about how the recession could affect services and real estate values.

Innovation

In collaboration with the Johnson County League of Women Voters, Johnson County Library sponsored a four-part series in Fall 2009 entitled “Focus on Johnson County.” Designed around the overall theme of the recession’s impact on the County Government’s finances and services, the programs offered Johnson County residents an opportunity to meet some of the most senior officials in Johnson County Government and hear directly from them about the challenges facing the community.

The four programs were “The Impact of the Recession on County Government ,” “Under-standing Property Taxes,” “Are County Health Services Serving More with Less?” and “How Green is Your County?” Audience participation was a key element of each program. Citizens were invited to ask questions freely and engage directly with officials on the issues most important to them – and they did.

JCL and the League shared equally in planning with speakers and overall arrangements, with negligible costs for publicity and refreshments. For this “Working for Democracy” project, the partners also have co-sponsored two other series – “Election 2008” in 2008 and “Local Government Made Easy” in 2007, a series about levels of local government, schools, the courts, and the press.

Progress

More than 100 adults participated in the four sessions in 2009. In exit surveys, they praised the presenters and their willingness to make themselves available to the audience for interaction, including handing out business cards for follow up. Comments indicated that they learned many new things about county procedures and services. Highest scores went to County Appraiser Paul Welcome for “Understanding Property Taxes,” and to Budget Director Scott Neufeld for “Impact of the Recession.” Comments reflected confidence gained in hearing first-hand from these speakers and an appreciation for the complexity of the County budget and the decision-making process.

In addition, County Government officials have expressed their pleasure with the opportunity to interact directly with citizens and have indicated a renewed interest in the library as a valuable community venue for this type of engagement.