Best Practices

 

CITY OF FORT COLLINS
Mayor Ann Azari

Mail Ballot Elections

It's a challenge to manage a vote-by-mail election and the uneasiness of some in the community towards mail ballots. A PC-based ballot verification software application (Voyager) was designed to track ballots in Fort Collins. The system utilizes bar code technology. The bar code on the return envelope is scanned at the city's ballot processing center to log the receipt of ballots and each transaction during the verification process. The software was created to deal with apprehensions about mail ballots by exposing any attempts to vote more than once. The system allowed city staff to verify voter registration status, track the return of ballots, track replacement ballots and generate detailed and summary reports from the database.

Fort Collins is one of the larger Colorado municipalities to successfully use the mail ballot for a regular candidate and issue election. Most Colorado municipalities have used the mail ballot process for special elections only. The voter turnout for the April 4, 1995 mail ballot election in Fort Collins was 42 percent. A total of 22,489 ballots were cast. The approximate cost of the mail ballot election was $88,000. About 77 percent of the election cost was for mail ballot packages (printing, assembly, images, supplies and postage). Other costs included legal advertising, computer technical support, public outreach (video production, flyers, etc.), hourly workers and equipment rental. The City of Fort Collins tested and critiqued the Voyager software for the vendor in exchange for its use.

Positive outcomes from the mail ballot election include increased voter turnout, compliance with ADA requirements, elimination of the need to train and manage over 250 election judges and alternates -- and concerns about insurance coverage for 83 voting locations went away.

Contact: Wanda Krajicek, City Clerk, (303) 221-6505

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Building Permit Processing

The City of Fort Collins offers several creative, time-saving options to make life easier for building permit customers. The most recent is the "take-out" permit. It allows customers needing permits for furnaces, water heaters, roofing, sewer lines, etc. to take care of business without actually leaving their home or office. The permit process can be initiated by mail, phone, or FAX. Once the fee is received, city personnel can schedule the inspection and mail the permit or have it ready for pick-up. This service saves the customer time and money and allows city staff to process permits when customers are not waiting at the service counter.

Another time-saving innovation offered to home builders is the Professional Plan Review Option. This is especially helpful during peak activity periods when the city is swamped with plan review submissions. Rather than wait until the builder's plan gets to the top of the pile for a detailed review by city staff, the builder may instead chose to have plan review performed by a Colorado-licensed professional architect or engineer.

One of the first jurisdictions in Colorado to offer it, Fort Collins pioneered the "one-permit" system. Rather than issuing multiple permits on one construction project for each of the various trades, a single, combined permit is issued when any combination of structural, electrical, plumbing and mechanical system alterations are involved.

Contact: Felix Lee, (303) 221-6505

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Neighborhood Partnership Team

In 1992, a team of City of Fort Collins employees, working with neighborhood groups to address issues of concern to the city, formed the Neighborhood Partnership Team (NPT). The mission of the NPT is to empower community groups to affect their quality of life by creating partnerships and facilitating solutions between community groups and the city. Groups are organized for the purpose of considering and acting upon any of a broad range of issues affecting the livability and quality of their neighborhoods. They act as forums for communication between residents, the city government, and other community organizations. Elements of the NPT model include the following:

The NPT consists of a cross-functional team of city employees.

The NPT helps neighborhood groups form or, when requested, assists existing groups.

Groups can form around issues, geographical location or common interests.

The neighborhood group is responsible for determining the specific issues to be addressed.

An NPT member facilitates each group, guiding it through problem-solving methods.

The NPT helps groups look to all community resources to address the issues.

Through training, coaching and modeling, NPT members strive to foster neighborhood group ownership and, ultimately, independence. Over time, neighborhood group members take over an increasing number of roles, and NPT involvement decreases until NPT representatives serve only as liaisons.

A training course on "Organizing and Facilitating a Neighborhood Group" is offered free to residents. The course focuses on the mechanical and people skills needed to effectively facilitate a group, offers participants a chance to role play, and teaches a problem solving method called the "Neighborhood Roadmap" which was developed specifically for neighborhood use. This tool has since been adapted by a number of other project teams and could easily be adapted by other communities.

The NPT model is very successful. The concept of NPT members acting as "permanent" liaisons between neighborhood residents and the city has proven quite effective. This relationship has resulted in increased communication between the city and the neighborhoods, enabling city employees to better understand the specific issues for a particular neighborhood, and increasing the city's credibility with citizens.

Another contribution to the success of the NPT model is the interdepartmental membership of the team. Because the NPT represents several city departments, the team can deal with a broad range of issues. This cross-functional approach has benefited not only team members and residents, but has led to a better understanding of overall city operations for many personnel.

Contact: Tess Heffernan, (303) 221-6505

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