Environmentally Sensitive Lands Referendum Campaign Melissa Sheets
Shared by: qwe7utyr
Environmentally Sensitive Lands Referendum Campaign Melissa Sheets Research/Situation Analysis: In 1988 and 2002, voters overwhelmingly approved incorporating an additional tax on their tax bills each year to fund the Flagler County Environmentally Sensitive Lands (ESL) Program. With less than $2 million in funds remaining, the County placed a referendum on the November 2008 ballot to continue the program for an additional 20 years. A similar referendum to fund library services was placed on the August 2008 ballot and failed with 57 percent of voters in opposition. Staff recognized that it was unreasonable to expect voters to support the referendum based on ballot language alone, and that it needed to educate as many voters as possible on the ESL program’s past accomplishments and future plans. Plus Flagler County had experienced rapid growth of almost 40,000 new residents since the last referendum. In an effort to target specific publics, extensive study was conducted on the demographics of the registered voters, coupled with secondary research on successful generational marketing techniques. Also the Political Action Committee (PAC) shared its polling research to include key messages to use such as “clean water, special, continuation, and only 10 cents a day.” Using this information, materials were drafted and feedback was sought from 100 employees, citizens, and personal contacts outside the area who were not familiar with the program. This research pointed out misconceptions and unclear verbiage used in the materials and provided a positive foundation for presenting the information in an easy to understand format. Objectives: 1.) Highlight past accomplishments and future plans for the ESL program through distribution of at least 10,000 educational pieces to citizens by October 20, the day early voting began. 2.) Engage 1 percent of registered voters (or 601 people) to participate in educational outreach events such as presentations and tours. 3.) Maximize the use of available technology to dispel rumors and misinformation with consistent and repetitive messages. 4.) Garner placement of at least four stories and/or positive editorials in the major print publications in Flagler County, the News‐Journal or News‐Tribune (same company) and The Flagler Times in October. Implementation: From the onset, the primary communications tool was the educational flyer. It was placed in all county buildings and at some local businesses, used as advertising inserts in 1,500 Chamber of Commerce newsletters and 2,600 church bulletins, disseminated as a direct mail piece to over 4,100 absentee voters and arrived the same day as absentee ballots, and distributed as handouts for presentations and as employee payroll stuffers. The county worked hard to maximize its personal relationships with elected officials in the City of Palm Coast and was able to secure inclusion in 30,000 City of Palm Coast water bills for the mere cost of printing and shipping. Another tool, a narrated bus tour of ESL purchases, combined experience marketing and word of mouth advertising to educate citizens on the history and uniqueness of the program. Tours offered an opportunity for media, community leaders and citizens to see some of the county’s lesser known parks. After the first tour, people were talking and stories appeared on MyTopiaCafe.com and in the News‐Journal. Shortly following, all three tours were at capacity and two additional tours were scheduled at the last minute to accommodate those on the waiting lists. Flagler County has an active circuit of community groups and 25 presentations were made, often featuring a County Commissioner to add credibility. Furthermore, the County advantageously used its controlled media, its government television station (FCTV) and the establishment of the ESL.FlaglerCounty.org website, to get the message out. A “mailbag” style television show was produced to answer the public’s questions and concerns. Questions were previously submitted by the public for added preparation and control. Lastly, because the PAC’s research indicated a large number of voters were newspaper readers, six paid political ads were placed during the two weeks of voting – two in the Flagler Pennysaver, two in the News‐Tribune, and four in The Flagler Times. Opportunities to speak on WNZF, Flagler County’s local radio station were pursued as well. Evaluation: Voters approved the ESL referendum at 65 percent and the objectives of the campaign were met. 1.) Approximately 42,000 educational pieces were distributed before October 20, with an additional 1,500 distributed during the early voting period 2.) 636 registered voters attended 25 presentations to community groups and 92 citizens (11 non‐ registered voters) attended the five bus tours offered – a total of 717 registered voters. 3.) 20 questions, submitted by 11 people, were answered in a television program featured on FCTV and the ESL website, which received 4,207 website hits. Also the same messages were used in a talking points document disseminated to 317 county employees, 92 tour participants, 10 elected officials and 12 political action committee members. 4.) The News‐Journal / News‐ Tribune provided an endorsement editorial in late September and published three subsequent positive stories in its publications in October. The Flagler Times provided two stories as well as eight letters to the editor – three endorsements, four in opposition, and one from staff dispelling misinformation. Budget: $10,000 was allocated by the Administration for this campaign. Without including staff time and transportation expenses (because they were already budgeted within the regular fiscal year), the campaign came in $3,743 under budget. However, the following are the true expenses of the campaign: Printing 55,000 flyers: $1,745. Mailings: $2,200. Bus Tours: $1,599. Advertising: $2,208. Signage: $80. Staff time: 640 hours with an estimated value of $16,000. Total Cost: $23,832 ‐ a minimal investment considering the referendum is expected to net $70 million over the next 20 years. Organizational Summary The Flagler County Board of County Commissioners is a 5‐member elected body serving all citizens of Flagler County. The current population of Flagler County is estimated at close to 95,000. The Board has two employees, the County Attorney and the County Administrator. The County Administrator directs county operations and acts as a liaison between county staff and the County Commission. In addition, he provides professional administration for the implementation of policies and objectives formulated by the Board of County Commissioners, develops and recommends alternative solutions to county issues for Board consideration, plans and develops programs to meet health, safety, welfare and organizational needs of the County, and is responsible for the day‐to‐day affairs of county government. The Environmentally Sensitive Lands (ESL) program is an initiative of the County Commission which is funded by additional voter approved ad valorem (property) tax dollars. The public relations staff for the Board of County Commissioners consists of two individuals, Carl Laundrie who handles media relations and public records requests and Melissa Sheets who oversees legislative affairs and community outreach efforts. On the ESL campaign, Melissa Sheets was the lead, with Environmental Planner Tim Telfer providing technical assistance. 50 Word Summary The Flagler County Board of County Commissioners initiated a public affairs campaign in September 2008 to educate its citizens on a referendum on the November ballot proposing continuance of the county’s Environmentally Sensitive Lands (ESL) program for an additional twenty years. The measure was successful with 65 percent voter approval.