So Governor-elect Brian Schweitzer thinks you can build a better mousetrap, does he? He’s right about some of you. On Nov. 22, the Schweitzer team launched a “Good Ideas” website (ideas.mt.gov) where anyone with a brainstorm—or a hare-brained scheme—can submit ideas for how to improve government. The site, says transition communications director Sarah Elliott, has been flooded with submissions—roughly 100 each week since its launch. A few of those ideas, she says, have already been implemented. One morning, in fact, Elliott read an idea and it was so good and so simple that she implemented it that very same day. The suggestor had encouraged the governor’s office to post news releases on the governor’s online calendar. Done.
We wanted to see what else the citizenry was suggesting and, upon request, Elliott forwarded the site’s first 25 submissions—names omitted—to the Independent. Along with the good ideas are the inevitable frustrations, pontifications and disclaimers (“I have no personal business interest in this matter”). Many submissions also include ingratiating exclamations—“Congratulations on your victory (phew!)”—reminiscent of Lazlo Toth’s 1970s letters imploring President Nixon to “Fight! Fight! Fight!” And naturally, brainstorms being what they are, there are ideas that snowball into two- and even three-for-one bonus suggestions. One tidy Montana resident with a healthy appetite for collecting garbage writes, “I’ve spent many weekends cleaning up Highway 93, by myself.” The highest litter fine in Montana that doesn’t involve human excrement is $500—for launching lighted material, like cigarettes, out of a vehicle. But this anti-litter advocate believes Montana’s fines aren’t nearly steep enough. “I think a $1,000 fine would be appropriate, and the offender should have to pick up liter [sic] for one week.” (In Montana, tossing urine or feces from your car can already garner that $1,000 ticket.)
Then comes the snowball: “In fact…why not burn garbage for fuel and save on resources.” Another submitter takes a strong stand against killing wild horses and urban sprawl. The contributor complains that “we are losing ‘The Country Life.’…I am just trying to point out the value of nature.” Then, a curious admission: “I can see here in New Jersey the impact of urban sprawl, as we call it here.” Hmmm. Is Jersey’s “Good Ideas” site not yet up and running? At any rate, the same submitter appears to be actively looking out for Montanans, promising to “research more about the concerns of ranchers.” Um, Thanks?
While some submissions have a decidedly personal touch—“Dear Brian,” begins one—Elliott says she doubts people are under the impression that the governor-to-be is reading through every single missive. Currently, Elliott says, one transition staff member reads submissions daily. Promising ideas are presented at staff meetings, where Schweitzer is present. Good thing, because more than one submission concludes with a gracious invitation to Schweitzer to get in touch if he’d like more information. One closer: “I would gladly welcome the chance to discuss these issues at greater length.” And further discussions between Schweitzer and idea-generators are possible if the idea is seriously under consideration.
Elliott says it’s fair to say that the “Good Ideas” website was itself a good idea. (“We certainly don’t think we can think of everything,” she says.) And whose idea was that? She credits Schweitzer and staffers Jan Lombardi and George Parisot. The website also includes a mini-survey about how well the submission process works—ideas for perfecting the “Good Ideas” site. Got an idea of your own? (Sure ya do.) Visit ideas.mt.gov and let ’em have it.