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Agencies using e-mails for communication


January 6, 2002

Some public officials view e-mail as a convenience; to others, it is almost a curse.

Either way, e-mail has become a significant, but less than pervasive, form of communications for public officials in Rapides Parish.

Alexandria Mayor Ned Randolph likes it.

Rapides Registrar of Voters Joanell Wilson has little use for it, preferring to communicate by telephone.

Rapides Parish District Attorney James "Jam" Downs is ambivalent about e-mail, possibly because he doesn't know how to work a computer.

You can e-mail Downs, but he will have to get his secretary to print out the message for him.

On the other hand, Alexandria City Councilman Butch Crenshaw knows how to send e-mails, but he no longer has a computer. Unlike the other five council members, neither Crenshaw nor Councilman Johnny Downs have e-mail addresses.

To reach those two by e-mail, you have to send your message through another city employee.

The way e-mail is used also varies among public officials and their employees. Some use it mainly to communicate with other agencies, while others also use e-mail to send electronic memos to their staff.

E-mail is a growing way for constituents to reach their elected officials, although the message may not always get through in a timely fashion.

Randolph said he has no preference on whether constituents phone him or send him an e-mail. But he said it's probably more convenient for constituents to e-mail him.

E-mailing eliminates constituents being put on hold or having to leave messages, Randolph said.

Except in emergencies where an immediate response is required, e-mail is a handy way for city employees to communicate with each other, Randolph said.

"We use that a lot among the staff and others," Randolph said. "It saves time. Run-of-the-mill stuff can be done expeditiously. ... It's great."

Wilson, the Rapides registrar, doesn't share Randolph's enthusiasm for e-mailing. If you want to reach her, try the telephone, not a computer.

"The telephone is good," Wilson said. "I just don't use e-mail that much. ... E-mail is not the preferred way to reach me."

Wilson's office does have an e-mail address, but mostly it is used for messages between her office and public offices.

She said one reason she dislikes e-mail is "you get so much junk on it.'

"I prefer talking to people and writing letters," Wilson said.

Downs has no problem with constituents reaching him by e-mail. He said fax, e-mail and phone are all OK.

Downs just has to have a little help from his secretary when it comes to the computer.

"I can't type, and I'm not computer-literate," Downs said. He said he has his secretary print out e-mails sent to him and send responses, if necessary.

Downs said most of the e-mailing done by his office is to out-of-parish police agencies and victims.

E-mailing is a rarity in the Rapides assessor's office.

"I guess you could stay we're still in the dark ages," said Assessor Ralph Gill. "We have it but very seldom use it. Ninety percent of ours come over the phone, the fax or mail."

When asked if he has a preference on how constituents should contact him, Gill answered, "It really doesn't make any difference to us."

Pineville Mayor Clarence Fields says his employees use e-mail more than he does because he doesn't have time to read the messages.

Like some other public agencies, the city of Pineville has its own Web site. Fields said residents with a complaint can file it through the Web site.

He said the site also lists the e-mail address for some of the city's departments.

The Rapides Parish Police Jury also has a Web page that includes an e-mail address.

Police Jury Secretary Angie Richmond said police jurors prefer constituents send e-mails to the Web address. She said the Web site is checked each morning, and the information is distributed to the police jurors.

In addition to electronic correspondence from other police jurors and other governmental agencies, "we do get a lot of e-mail from constituents," Richmond said.

Rapides Parish School Board Vice President Scott Linzay said he is allowed to use his work e-mail address for School Board business.

But he said most people who reach him on school issues still do it by phone.

"A lot of people, when they want to talk to you, they want to talk to you right now," Linzay said. "When people have a problem, they don't want to wait by a computer. They will run you down, one way or another."

He said when he gets e-mails, it's usually on non-pressing issues such as school employees notifying him of an upcoming event. He estimated he gets a combined 10 to 15 e-mails a week from school employees and parents.

by Steve Bannister. Copyright © 2001, The Town Talk, a division of Gannett Company Inc.


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