When breast-feeding advocates mobilized to push for an ordinance protecting nursing moms in Chandler, they did it mainly by e-mail.
For months, City Council members received hundreds of e-mails from throughout the country and even Canada urging them to protect nursing moms.
The e-mail campaign, at least in part, did the trick as the Chandler City Council last month adopted the ordinance advocates had sought.
Those advocates have since set their sights on Tempe, and that city is getting an increasing number of e-mails on the breastfeeding issue. The Tempe City Council is scheduled to vote on an ordinance similar to Chandler’s on Dec. 1.
E-mail lobbying of local government has become commonplace in the East Valley. So common, in fact, that it has become the top mode of communication between public officials and their constituents, surpassing traditional letters, faxes and telephone calls, local officials said.
"It’s a totally different communication mechanism now," Chandler Councilman Matt Orlando said. "Before it was a phone call here or a letter there," Orlando said.
The increase in e-mail lobbying doesn’t stop at local politics. At the state level, the electronic medium has become the way to communicate with legislators, Scottsdale-based political consultant Jason Rose said.
"Before it was phone calls and faxes and handwritten letters," he said. "Now you’re seeing an explosion in how constituents communicate with their elected officials."
And e-mail lobbying can be effective.
Scottsdale Councilman Jim Lane pointed to a plethora of e-mails from residents opposing a commuter air service at the city-owned airport as a main reason for voting against the proposal earlier this month.
Residents cite the convenience of e -mail for its popularity.
John DonFrancesco used email when he wrote to the Gilbert Town Council for the first time last month to voice his opinion on a plan for a water park and ice rink in his community. He said he chose email because he writes better than he speaks, and would have sent a letter through conventional mail if he had to.
"It’s just that e-mail is quicker," he said. "And with email you can address it to several people at once."
But e-mail’s effectiveness depends on various factors, such as where the writer lives and whether the message is individually written or part of a large-scale form letter campaign, Chandler Mayor Boyd Dunn said.
News of a drugdevelopment company coming to Chandler in recent months brought an onslaught of mostly e-mail form letters opposing the planned facility. The campaign, spurred in large part by Virginia-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has urged City Council members not to allow Covance to build a 400,000-square-foot facility in Chandler because the company conducts pharmaceutical testing on animals.
"We urge you to rescind permission given to Covance to build a facility in Chandler. We do not want Covance’s presence to sully the fine reputation of Chandler, where values truly do make the difference," states most of the e-mails received by council members.
Using e-mail form letters tends to detract from their overall purpose, however.
"I think they made a mistake in that case," Rose said. "If I were a consultant for that organization . . . I can assure you, I wouldn’t be encouraging e-mails from Singapore, Bangladesh and London."
Dunn said he reads all his e-mails, but those from local residents carry more weight.
"It impresses me that PETA can generate that sort of thing," Dunn said. "But I’m more impressed by e-mails from our local residents."
Issues and e-mails A closer look: Examples of recent issues that have spurred e-mails to council members in the East Valley:
Scottsdale Issue: A proposal to allow a commuter air service at Scottsdale Airport. The City Council voted against applying for commuter service clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration amid strong public opposition earlier this month.
E-mail: "NO MORE PLANES" - Sara Dan, (no hometown listed)
Mesa Issue: A proposed property tax for Mesa residents. City officials are considering putting the issue on a May ballot.
E-mail: "I expect the city to act in a responsible and businesslike manner and exhaust all possible cost-cutting options (yes, even layoffs of non-essential personnel) to make it through difficult financial times before I would consider voting in support of a property tax." — Stuart Kirk, Mesa
Gilbert Issue: A proposed water park and ice rink at Crossroads Park that has raised concerns about traffic and crime.
E-mail: "I’m not a traffic engineer and I don’t even play one on TV, but I gotta admit, this is basic stuff. I hope that the traffic-planning department is not thinking that a one-way sign will keep people from cutting across a mere 100-foot-long roadway." — John and Ellen DonFrancesco, Gilbert.
Chandler Issue: Whether the city should adopt an ordinance declaring a mother’s right to breast-feed in public. The ordinance was adopted last month.
E-mail: "I live in Gilbert but I do a lot of shopping in Chandler. Because of Chandler’s backward position on a mother feeding her baby, I will no longer spend my money in your city . . . and will encourage my friends, family and Internet contacts to do the same." — Alisa Werner, Gilbert.
Tempe Issue: A proposed Salt River Project transmission line that would run along McClintock Drive through parts of Tempe and Chandler. SRP is seeking input on the plan.
E-mail: "The City of Tempe needs to stand behind the residents that continue to pay taxes, and support elected officials by standing up to SRP plans to place poles and lines down McClintock Dr. Please understand that this is a quality of life issue as well a a monetary problem that will change the character of South
Tempe. I am proud to be a Tempe resident and will expect your utmost attention to this matter." — J.J. Camptell, Tempe