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Tips for Making Effective Requests

Always direct your message to the person who chairs the committee concerned with your issue. If you wish to speak to someone else, start with the vice chair or members of that committee.

If you wish to contact all of your representatives, do so individually, one at a time, by phone or by email. This is more effective than a group message. Remember to be brief and specific; focus on one issue at a time.

Recommendations for effective written communication with Councilmembers. (These rules can also be applied to meetings.)

1. Go to the right place

  • If your issue is the responsibility of an executive department (i.e., any department except Legislative, Municipal Court, and Law), contact that department first.
  • If that fails, contact the Customer Service Bureau at 206-684-CITY [2489].
  • If your issue is a matter of policy, contact the Councilmember who chairs the Council Committee that considers issues like yours or call the Council reception
    at 206-684-8888.
  • If your issue relates to City budget, contact the Mayor's Office and the Council chair of the Budget Committee.

2. Be specific

Present your issue in the clearest and most concise way possible. Ask for exactly what you want. If you want a response to your issue, make sure you request a response.

3. Keep communication brief

Any written request should be presented in less than one page with only the most relevant facts presented. Attachments are fine for additional details, but the one page request should clearly describe your issue and what you want. When planning in-person appointments, leave time for the official to ask questions after presenting your issue.

4. Be polite

Strong emotion is OK; however, rudeness is not effective. Even if you are angry about some decision, avoid using insults or aggressive behavior. Stick to productive forms of communication and focus on finding a solution together.

5. One letter, one request

One meeting with an official, one request. Resist the urge to pile on issues just because you have someone's attention. If you present a menu of problems, you will be much harder to help and you will risk losing the official's attention.

6. Offer information and ideas

If you know something about a situation that does not appear to be understood or taken into account by officials, please offer it. If you have a fresh idea, and you have made a good effort to research its viability, do present it. Be willing to help find more information if the official asks for it. Just keep it brief and remember that if you want a response, you need to ask for it.

7. Show that you understand

If you are making an argument in a situation where there are competing interests, it is a good idea to acknowledge the competing views. When you respect the interests of others and appreciate the challenge that your public officials often face, people will be more eager to help you.

8. Keep a sense of proportion

It is good to approach decision makers with a degree of urgency and importance; however, know the importance of your concern relative to the big picture. (e.g. Are you involved in a dispute between neighbors or between neighborhoods? Do you need a pothole repaved or a bridge?) Make your request, be clear that the issue matters very much to you, but keep a sense of proportion.

9. Identify steps already taken

If you have taken steps to resolve your concerns, say so. Those who have done everything they can think of, before coming to government, are more likely to get prompt help. (e.g. Let officials know that you already tried talking to the irritating neighbor, trimming all the overhanging trees you could reach, or discussing your issue with a City worker, and did not get resolution.)

10. Research first, present later

Research a situation before you present it. Use the following resources: City's Public Information Officers, Neighborhood Service Center Coordinators, and the Library.



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