Activists in the Madison area were outraged last week when they discovered emails from to the petition site Change.org were being blocked by the City of Madison.
A City of Madison statement said the “high volume” of messages were delaying or blocking delivery of other email, so the Information Technology division made the decision to block emails from the site.
According to its website, Change.org allows any individual to start a campaign and mobilize people all around the world for the goal of “making governments and companies more responsive and accountable.”
The statement said the petition site allows each signer of a petition to automatically share the petition with all of their email and social networking contacts, resulting in high internet traffic.
Ald. Scott Resnick, District 8, said the initial reason for the volume of emails was because of the petition to remove Madison Police Department officer Stephen Heimsness from the police force, created by the friends of Paul Heenan.
In 2012, Heenan was shot and killed by Heimsness after being mistaken for a burglar after a night of drinking. Both the Madison Police Department and Dane County District Attorney ruled that Heimsness’s actions were legal, despite the fact that Heenan was unarmed.
“That petition itself ended up having such high demand that it ended up slowing down the city email service so emails to elected officials did not go through,” Resnick said.
According to Resnick, the issue is not the fact that these emails did not go through, but that for the past year, none of these emails relating to petitions were going directly to City Council members.
Brenda Konkel, an activist and local government blogger, said there was only one petition from sites like Change.org that City Council addressed, while the rest were left unacknowledged.
“People thought that they were contacting their elected officials and now probably feel like they were being ignored instead of realizing they just never got the message,” she said.
Resnick said that as of now, he cannot confirm that these emails are going directly to City Council members, but the IT department is taking the necessary steps to rectify the situation.
Resnick said there was “outrage” among council members upon hearing this news and he said he hopes to see change take place immediately so that citizens’ voices are not left unheard.
“It’s disheartening that we were not hearing from our citizens who had the expectation that we would listen to them,” he said.
Further steps have been taken dealing with the IT department and mayor’s office to permanently fix the problem, Resnick said.
Emails are currently being sent to a Gmail account and organizers of petitions are being asked to redirect signed petitions to this account where city staff will monitor it, the statement said.
Konkel said while the issue has been fixed temporarily, she thinks policies should be put in place to prevent this from happening again.