Preparation tips for a meeting with city officials?
April 4, 2012 8:20 AM   Subscribe

Have you ever planned a weekly community event? I have a meeting with city officials tomorrow and, having never planned anything like this, I don't know what to expect. Should I bring graphs and spreadsheets? What questions should I ask?

I've been wanting to do this thing (details below) for many years, and finally sent an initial email to my city's recreation department for more information about how to get started. He emailed back to say his team was reviewing my proposal. A week later he asked for a meeting. So now, after probably ten years thinking about planning this weekly community type event, I'm having a meeting about it.

Here are the details I sent to him in my original email:
"What: A 2-hour Free Dance, possibly for women only, ages 30 and up, once a week (though eventually I would love twice a week!)
Why: To provide a safe place for women to dance, away from the madness of club culture. (By "club culture" I mean crowds of twenty-somethings, scantily dressed, drinking alcohol, in the dark late at night. And often with a lot of peer pressure related stress, particularly for women who are overweight.)

Other details: I am thinking of a $2 entry fee for water and a security guard. I haven't figured out what kind of stereo system, or whether chairs are needed. I am hoping for, if not a free room, then perhaps a reduced price room as this will be a non-profit activity.

I really think this is something that could be very enjoyable for a wide range of people who have no place to go dance in a stress-free environment, and may be just the kind of activity to get folks jump-started on an activity program, particularly if they haven't found traditional exercising to be enjoyable."

[Any ideas/concerns/criticism about the event itself welcome.]
posted by Glinn to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
A free dance does not have an entry fee so you may want to not even ask about trying to charge for this. You may be able to charge for refreshments but also may not depending on rec center regulations and city codes.

Do your homework before the meeting to see what the regulations are for that space. Most of that is online or can be found by looking over the City Code at the library. If you start asking for things that are against the Municipal Code then they will not look kindly on your request. Be prepared with how you will organize all logistics of the dance.

Are you just representing yourself or this a community group? If this is just an idea that you have you should get other people involved that are willing to help because this is an event that is impossible to organize solo. I doubt that your community is going to financially support the dance so you should have cash on hand to pay for security, music dj, insurance, advertising, etc.
posted by JJ86 at 8:45 AM on April 4, 2012

(As a former city official) likely most of their questions will revolve around liability and responsibility. Who is in charge? Who will clean up? Who is going to keep guys out/prevent fights/handle turning people away if too many show up? How will this happen? What are your contingency plans?
As neat as flash mobs might be, no municipality wants a scheduled weekly one. As supportive as they be of your cool idea (and I do like it), it's your idea, and unless and until it proves successful and practically hassle-free (if then), they don't want to have any additional messes to deal with - liability, complaints, liability, or liability. Did I mention liability? If for whatever reason the officials or the lawyers think their might end up being legal hassles, their not likely to go for it. In some cases, you may get turned down if someone powerful enough thinks it could make them look bad, especially if an election is approaching (or recalls are rampant, as where I used to serve).
posted by attercoppe at 9:04 AM on April 4, 2012

(meant to preview)
*As supportive as they may be

Also ditto JJ86: you need a team. You should be able to demonstrate this is not a one-person show, that there are several people who are not just interested but committed. One person might flake out, or be sick, or be unreliable, but a group of like-minded people is more likely to be stable in administrating this sort of thing.
posted by attercoppe at 9:09 AM on April 4, 2012

I'd also want to know how you're going to advertise it, spread the word, and so on. Are you paying the band or the DJ? Who's going to set up the speakers, etc., and does the space have enough available power?
Is there parking?
And can you limit the age of the attendees? Are you going to check their IDs? Will there be childcare?
I don't think you need spreadsheets, but I think you should have a list answers to just about every question they can come up with.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:15 AM on April 4, 2012

Thank you. All very helpful. Lots to think about.

As for the "free dance" thing, I guess I kind of thought that was the name for the kind of dancing, not necessarily whether or not it was free of charge. I will come up with a new name.

As for a team, I hadn't gotten that far. Where does one find people? Knock on doors? Craigslist? Post a note in the library? I guess I was thinking the first one might be small-ish but that people who came might have some interest in being involved.

As for liability, totally understandable. That was my thought with the security guard. Maybe I need insurance. Maybe forms for people to sign? Yikes. The initial email was intended as a little bit more fact-finding, and a little less about having a meeting to discuss specifics. So I suppose I'm in a bit of a scramble to put information together.
posted by Glinn at 9:23 AM on April 4, 2012

This site has some info on setting up similar sounding events - maybe you could contact them for advice as well?
posted by shiny shoes at 9:54 AM on April 4, 2012

Given you initial email & subsequent invitation, you don't have to have all the answers going in.

Going in to the meeting, a simple 1-2 page summary of what you envision, whomwill help, what you think you need, and what the costs for promotion, security, DJ and sound equipment would be a great start. List out you questions, or the things that need to be resolved from your perspective, and expect the city folks to have a similar list.

Are there any community organizations that might sponsor or co-present the event with you? They might be able to add you to their insurance for a nominal cost, or even just help with volunteers or publicity.

If insurance becomes a concern, you might talk to some of the other organizers of community events (rec leagues, youth sports) about how they handle it. However, you might also find the recreation department is willing to put on the events and then it might be under their insurance, so don't stress too much about that going in.

Don't be intimidated by city staff, Recreation staff probably have a mandate to get people active and this could help with that. They may have to be the liability ogres, but disarming them can sometimes be as simple as, "how can we relieve that concern?".

And good on ya!
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 10:37 AM on April 4, 2012

Okay, I looked and you're in Evanston, which has a park-district-type rec department. I grew up not far from Evanston and I live downstates. I've taught community rec classes that I created, and helped put on large events (both recurring and one-off) through the park district, city, and schools, so I have a fair amount of experience with this. I'm not particularly familiar with Evanston's system, but I think my experiences will probably be pretty similar to yours, since most Illinois park districts or rec departments are pretty similar. THEY probably have all the liability insurance, and can tell you exactly what kind of cost structure you'd be looking at (possibly none; taxes may cover it), and you'd basically coordinate it through them, either as a volunteer or they may pay you.

Weekly seems very frequent. Are there that many 30+ women who would want to come dance at a weekly single-sex dance event? Are you envisioning it as club-like or as exercise? Is there nothing at the YWCA or similar?

But I can almost guarantee this won't be a one-off, make-or-break meeting -- probably the rec department guy will talk to you about the idea, about the process, what they have available, what he thinks are good and bad parts of the idea. I think you'll probably end up learning about their process and what they have available, while selling the idea as fun and exciting and necessary, and then coming back in a few weeks with a more detailed proposal.

You probably want to glance through this (pdf), particularly at classes, events, and groups for adults; get an idea for what they do and what sorts of resources the city has available for those sorts of classes. Many of those are probably run by community volunteers or contract teachers.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:08 AM on April 4, 2012

(I only live in the one downstate, stupid typo!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:09 AM on April 4, 2012

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