Accessible Government

Open Boulder, a new citizen advocacy group, makes more room at the table

Sometimes the actions of Boulder city and county government can make everyday citizens scratch their heads and wonder.

A few mystifying goings on of late: Mapleton Hill’s historic shed, the Boulder Junction awakening, Google’s unwelcome wagon, the effusive VRBO objector, and West Pearl’s construction bender – to name just a few.

Chances are you’re mostly unaffected by the inanity. Busy running a business, or marathon, or family, the average Boulderite sits back and lets the smart people in charge keep this amazing place amazing. When glitches arise, we sign and say, “Only in Boulder,” and enjoy the antics from the sideline.

Until, that is, we are directly affected by an ill-conceived or half-baked decision. But even at that point we may feel alienated from the process.

A new citizens group thinks Boulder can do better. Open Boulder believes in the power of collaborative governance. The new group is offering big ideas and practical action to help more Boulderites engage.

“The pessimism people feel about the federal government is widespread,” says Andy Schultheiss, Open Boulder’s executive director. “One of the reasons Open Boulder is such a good idea is that we are trying to prevent that from happening at the local level.”

Schultheiss is the former district director for Colorado U.S. Representative Jared Polis, and served on Boulder city council from November 2003 – August 2007 (a brief period of Boulder civic history widely remembered for its pragmatic progress). Mr. Schultheiss recently joined Open Boulder to help plot the group’s strategy.

Open Boulder’s ultimate vision? A city that is responsive to what the majority of its residents want, not just the vocal few.

Open Boulder hopes to be a data-driven agent of change; a conduit of sorts between citizens and government, harnessing the ideas and concerns of people who are often too busy with life to engage politically – working people, students, seniors, families, and others. Among its methods, Open Boulder will use forums, surveys and social media to measure citizen concerns, and communicate those concerns to decision makers.

Recently founded and funded by working people, Open Boulder is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that describes itself as “a grassroots, nonpartisan movement of open-minded, pragmatic and moderate individuals of all ages, cultures and economic backgrounds.” The team includes Jessica Yates, Brady Robinson, Michelle Estrella, Chris Ozeroff, Angelique Espinoza and Jim Butterworth.

Inspired by open city government movements across the US, Open Boulder has specifically cited the success of Open Raleigh. The North Carolina city has committed to an open source, citizen-centric approach that emphasizes government transparency, collaboration and accessibility. In other words, Raleigh makes it easy for citizens to be aware and a part of the process.

“A lot of people move here because of the setting, the recreation, the open spaces. But in order to maintain these things we need to have thriving businesses, good paying jobs, and housing options,” Mr. Schultheiss says. “We believe the entire system needs to be cared for. For that to happen more constituencies need the opportunity to participate.”

If it’s true that people engage with what they feel part of and value what they help to build, Open Boulder is on to something big.

Open Boulder is our February Featured Friend. We will bring you stories on the group in this space throughout the month.