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What's a 'Pop Up City Hall'? Popsicles, an umbrella and a Grand Forks official

It's called a "Pop Up City Hall," and if you see one, you'll know it--from the red and white umbrella to the free popsicles. The pop-ups are a new strategy launched this week by the city to reach out to local residents. Grand Forks staff and elec...

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Grand Forks City Hall, 255 N. 4th St. (GF Herald photo/Sam Easter)

It's called a "Pop Up City Hall," and if you see one, you'll know it-from the red and white umbrella to the free popsicles.

The pop-ups are a new strategy launched this week by the city to reach out to local residents. Grand Forks staff and elected officials will drop by big public events and chat about city issues with passersby-answering questions, taking down opinions and handing out treats.

The first such event debuted Thursday night in Lincoln Park, where the Park District held an outdoor movie screening. The next is set for 9 a.m. on Saturday at the Town Square Farmer's Market.

"It seems as though we're having a hard time reaching people," City Council President Dana Sande said. He and other city leaders wondered if town hall events, broadcast City Council meetings and the like were reaching the public the way the city needs them to.

"I spoke with several people that told me they didn't vote to support the sales tax (in a November increase vote), because they told me we were going to use the money to build a new library," Sande said-even though that would take another, later city referendum to authorize it.

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Though Sande hesitated to say the city would use the pop-ups to "campaign" for city policy, he said it will be useful in public opinion polling.

"I think we'll do everything we can to get information on big-ticket items," he said. "What better way to judge people's attitudes than to speak with them?"

City Council member Jeannie Mock was set to attend the Thursday evening event in Lincoln Park. She said it's a good way to engage on small things, too.

"I think it's a nice way to get out and engage with people a little more. We'll see how many people want to talk about things," she said. "That's always nice-not everybody knows you can pay a utility bill online."

Future pop-up events are set for 6 p.m. on July 25 at the "Family Fun Night" in University Park and 9 a.m. on July 29 at the Town Square Farmer's Market. Peter Steele, a communications specialist with the city, called the program a six-week "pilot project" to gauge the new outreach's effectiveness.

The city is looking to try it, Steele said, especially given its low overhead.

"You've got to buy free popsicles."

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