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County launches new SpeakUp public comment portal

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Washoe County has been gradually rolling out a new feature to its online meeting portal that offers a new way to give public comment on county issues. 

Erick Willrich, assistant to County Manager Eric Brown, presented the new “SpeakUp” platform during Tuesday’s Board of County Commissioners meeting. 

SpeakUp is a part of the county’s larger online meetings portal and was launched by the county on Thursday. The Granicus portal provides access to meeting agendas, live and recorded meeting video, minutes and now archived e-comments in one place. 

Activating SpeakUp took staff time, but doesn’t cost the county any additional money. 

Using SpeakUp, residents can provide electronic comment on specific agenda items or to the general public comment at the end of the meeting’s agenda. Those comments are public and immediate, Willrich said, appearing on commissioners’ iPads on the dias and in the live agenda that accompanies the video feed of the meeting. 

For those who want to provide comment in person, SpeakUp allows people to register to speak through the portal, then show up to the meeting to speak. 

Willrich said the new system will give community members more opportunity to provide public comment. Commission Chair Alexis Hill noted that two people had already used the new e-comment portal for Tuesday’s meeting, as was visible on her iPad.

“As has been shared many times, it’s not always convenient to be here in person, and this is another platform that provides that to the constituents,” Willrich said. 

He added that SpeakUp’s language options, provided within the page through Google Translate, extends public comment to more people. 

Commissioner Jeanne Herman questioned why the new system wasn’t presented to commissioners before it was rolled out. 

“Sometimes I think some things we do without a lot of thought. It kind of discourages people from coming to the meeting, and I hope that wasn’t the purpose of it,” Herman said. 

Commissioner Mike Clark said the new technology was “chipping away at people’s voice.” 

“My concerns on this are that I always think it’s important to have people in the chamber. We want to hear their voice inflections, we want to see their body language,” he said. 

Commissioner Mariluz Garcia disagreed with Herman’s and Clark’s assessments of the new system. 

“In reality this just helps us cast the net wider,” she said. “We want to always move forward in terms of access and equity as we outlined at the beginning of the year. I think this is incredible.” 

Garcia also raved about how easy the portal is to use and for commissioners to see the comments. 

Residents must sign up to use SpeakUp at https://washoe-nv.granicusideas.com and create a personal profile before they can make a comment. 

As with public comment, there’s no anonymous option. E-commenters are also limited to 2,250 words per comment, the approximate equivalent to a 3-minute comment in chambers.

Kristen Hackbarth
Kristen Hackbarth
Kristen Hackbarth is a freelance editor and communications professional with more than 20 years’ experience working in marketing, public relations and communications in northern Nevada. Kristen graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a degree in photography and minor in journalism and has a Master of Science in Management and Leadership. She also serves as director of communications for Nevada Cancer Coalition, a statewide nonprofit. Though she now lives in Atlanta, she is a Nevadan for life and uses her three-hour time advantage to get a jump on the morning’s news.

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