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Curry trips over digital divide

 

Curry County is facing its own version of the “fiscal cliff” next July, when the federal support that pays for crucial services finally dries up. Barring some magic solution, that means voters must choose between some sort of local tax effort, or doing without a basic public safety services – sheriff’s patrols, a jail, a prosecuting attorney, a juvenile system.

To facilitate the discussion among voters, Curry County has accepted the help of the Oregon Kitchen Table Project.  The vision is a “family discussion” at the “kitchen table” to find a solution.

The effort launched with a bumpy start last week, and we have to be concerned that the discussion will not gather the kind of clear direction that Curry County officials so desperately need.

The project organizers have decided to go entirely digital; Curry residents can only voice their opinions online.  They recognize that many residents don’t have online access; the promotion includes encouragement to find access at schools, libraries and city halls throughout the county. 

Once online, residents will find some things that might limit participation. The program first asks for contact information and then sensitive demographic information, raising concerns about privacy.  More successful surveys ask for the crucial opinions first, then ask for demographics later, once some trust is built. Our second concern is the quality of the information that guides the Curry County discussion; it’s clearly a rough draft that still needed some careful editing. (Believe us; we know how that can happen in publishing.)

Frankly, we don’t think many folks will cross the digital divide to join the discussion, and when they do we are afraid they will either be put off or confused by what’s been posted.  Since 80 percent of registered voters tend to cast ballots in this county, that will leave a critical gap in the guidance it might give to the county commissioners. 

But, if you can access it, give it a try: Visit oregonskitchentable.org and follow links to the Curry County discussion. 

 

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