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RTM Website Lets In Sunshine — And Raises Hackles

In 2011, financial arbitration lawyer Christine Meiers Schatz and her husband moved to Westport. They liked the town’s “open-minded, progressive” vibe. It seemed like a great place to raise their kids.

As she became active in the school start-time issue — she’s founder and president of Sleep For Success Westport — Schatz learned a lot about local government. She saw few people in her demographic (women with young kids, like hers: 6, 4 and 2-year-old twins) on the RTM.

She understood why: “We’re busy keeping little humans alive.”

Christine Meiers Schatz, with her family.

But Schatz also believed it’s important for everyone in town to be represented. The RTM, after all, is the Representative Town Meeting.

And, she says, in these fractious times “we may not be able to change the world. But we can make things better in our own backyards.”

She ran for a seat in District 2 — and won. She is excited to serve.

But that’s not what this story is about.

As she campaigned door to door — her district stretches from Old Hill to Saugatuck — Schatz realized that was the only good way to meet constituents, and get a sense of the issues.

RTM veterans warned her that most Westporters don’t pay attention to local government. Schatz is not sure. She thinks people want to be involved. They just don’t know how.

The only options, she says, are to attend RTM meetings in person, watch them on TV, or read the minutes. Newspaper coverage, she says charitably, is “short.”

But everyone is online. So Schatz decided to create a totally unofficial — but quite comprehensive — blog.

Her plan was to compile biographical information on every member. She’d post agendas, reports about meetings and FAQs, plus short video clips. It would all link back to the town’s quite factual — and visually snore-inducing — RTM page.

The official RTM web page, at WestportCT.gov.

She called it “The Unofficial RTM Report by Christine Meiers Schatz.” She registered the domain RTMReport.com.

Schatz researched all 35 RTM colleagues. Using publicly available information, she created profiles for each: education, profession, volunteer work, RTM committees. She offered links to each member’s personal website.

She began building the rest of the site too.

Suddenly — and to her surprise — a few members objected.

Some wanted to provide guest posts. She created that opportunity — and was criticized for opening it up that way.

Others did not want so much info about themselves provided online.

“We have a lot of really talented people on the RTM,” Schatz explains. ” I thought this would be a great way to highlight them.”

Much of the information came from sources like the League of Women Voters’ Guide. One member protested that it was incorrect — even though it’s provided by RTM members themselves.

But — in deference to those objections — Schatz stripped most of those details from each member’s profile.

A screenshot of the stripped-down member page from Christine Meiers Schatz’s website. This is for her own District 2.

The blowback continued. Some members wanted the ability to provide their own, free-form paragraph about themselves. Others thought there should be a standard template. Right now, Schatz is seeking input and consensus from members on exactly what information and format is best.

Of course, not all members objected. Nicole Klein praised Schatz’s “initiative and creativity.” Others applaud her efforts too.

In a nod toward critics, Schatz changed the name of her blog to “Christine Meiers Schatz’s RTM Report.” And she switched the domain to SchatzRTM.com.

The home page of Christine Meiers Schatz’s blog.

But she persisted.

And she emphasizes that she intends her website to be one way — among others — to get information to residents.

“I’m not trying to be the sole voice,” Schatz notes. “That’s not ideal. Not everyone agrees what should go on the town site, or this one. So let’s have not just me, but lots of people doing things like this.”

For now though, Schatz’s site is the most robust RTM page in town. To check it out, click here.

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