People who don't have the time or desire to go to public meetings now have an easy way to comment on topics involving Ashland and the city government.

People who don't have the time or desire to go to public meetings now have an easy way to comment on topics involving Ashland and the city government.

The city is testing Open City Hall, an Internet site where people can post comments and read what others are saying about selected topics.

People start out by visiting www.ashland.or.us/opencityhall.

To join, people are asked to provide their name and address. That information will be kept confidential. It will be used to identify statements coming from people who live in or near Ashland, city officials said.

Open City Hall also requires people to provide an e-mail address and to create a password.

In a message for people visiting the Ashland Open City Hall site, city officials said, "While we can't guarantee the outcome of issues posted on this forum, we can guarantee that your voice will be heard. Thoughtful, substantive comments will be read and considered with the same respect and consideration afforded comments provided orally at public meetings."

The guinea pig topic for the site is the "Pedestrian Places Project," a city government effort to identify pedestrian-friendly improvements that could be made at three busy Ashland intersections.

More information about the topic is posted on the new site.

The Open City Hall service is run by Peak Democracy, a nonpartisan company with a mission to broaden civic engagement and build public trust in government. It serves cities across the country.

According to Peak Democracy, government officials rarely hear from the majority of community members because it's hard for most people to attend meetings. Many people are intimidated by public speaking, don't have time to go to meetings or are uncomfortable stating their opinions publicly or confronting people with opposing views.

In Ashland, it's common for retirees and government watchdogs to attend meetings, but working parents and young adults are rarely seen.

Some business owners have said they are fearful of speaking out on hot topics because they could lose customers.

Others have said that Ashland City Council meetings — which begin at 7 p.m. and often last until the mandatory stopping time of 10:30 p.m. — are too long.

Sometimes council members run out of time to reach all the items on their meeting agendas. Residents who waited to comment about at an item at the end of the agenda go home frustrated about not having had a chance to speak.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.