Saturday, September 6, 2008

Tsunami Sarah

The choice of Sarah Palin as the Republican party's vice-presidential candidate has had a major impact on the city offices in Wasilla, Alaska, the town of which she was mayor before becoming governor of Alaska. I worked for many years in city administration for two California cities: one with a population of about 35,000 at the time, and one with about 100,000. Even towns of those two sizes would have been hard-put to deal with the tsunami-like surge of calls, emails, letters, and faxes that have hit Wasilla, with a current population of 7,025, per the city's website. I suspect that city residents trying to call city hall are having a hard time getting through.

The city has swung into action amazingly quickly, seeking to provide information while not returning calls due to the insufficiency of funds budgeted for telephone service. As of Thursday, September 4th (the first day I checked,) the city's home page has as its first heading a link to "Questions and answers about former mayor Palin." Click on that to go to the page that mentions the lack of funds for telephone calls. More importantly, it also includes information on how to contact the current mayor (and a reminder that she still has to do her normal job); a link to information about public records requests; and "Document Central," a set of links that starts with "City documents -- recently requested -- former Mayor Palin." Someone has done a very impressive job with very little lead time -- I wonder how the overtime budget is holding up. Kudos to all the Wasilla staff that worked on getting the info up.

Hasty reading on my part missed the fact that to find "Banned or Censured Books Response" one must click on "City documents -- recently requested -- former Mayor Palin" in Document Central; I clicked on library in that list instead, and just got a map. But that's my fault, not theirs. Clicking correctly just got the policy on requests to remove books, but that's fine as a quick start. Maybe no reports were made to the city council on requests. Maybe more will be forthcoming.

The city's speedy response reminded me of something said at a disaster preparedness workshop at one city I worked at: when your city has been hit by a major disaster, and everyone is scrambling with all their might to respond to people injured, dead, and dying, not to mention trying to protect survivors and property, you have to save some people to respond to the politicians who will descend upon your town for photo ops to show how caring they are. I think of that whenever an elected official flies in to view a disaster scene. Wasilla isn't in quite that same position, but it may feel like it: everyone's trying to get their jobs done, then the world starts calling/faxing/emailing for info. Again, good job Wasilla.

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