Fort Collins, Colo., mayor chats up citizens

The city of Fort Collins, Colo., will hold its fifth City Talk today, connecting citizens to the mayor and other government officials through an online chat site.

The moderated chats were the result of a brainstorm between Mayor Ray Martinez and his staff. Martinez will chat for an hour today, starting at 1 p.m.

"The intent is to have another way to connect with citizens and make it convenient for them," said Kelly DiMartino, the city's communications and public involvement coordinator. Though the city holds open houses and other meetings, they are an inconvenience to citizens because they have to leave their homes, DiMartino said.

Fort Collins, a city of 116,000 about 45 miles north of Denver, held three pilot sessions this winter. The official chats began in May. Martinez, the city manager and the transportation services director have all participated.

DiMartino said the mayor would participate either monthly or bimonthly, in addition to other officials when necessary, such as during an important project. During the first few chats, DiMartino said that an average of 12 citizens participated, but she expects the number to grow as the project continues.

Citizens are required to provide their e-mail addresses and a sign-in name so that they

can remain anonymous if they want, although they are encouraged to use their own names. They must also adhere to a policy restricting the comments to the topic.

DiMartino said the chats so far have been a "valuable tool" and that no chatters have acted inappropriately.

The city spent $4,300 on e-Share Expressions software to set up the chat.

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