To capture a more holistic view of local government, I started attending public meetings.
Despite Anne Williamson’s research, public presence during these meetings is abysmal. Of the four I attended, only Parks and Recreation had public comments. And, I can’t say that the sample present reflects Williamson’s research result either.
Why aren’t more people attending meetings? It could be…
- Flexibility. Meetings either take place during the day, when most people are at work, or dinner time. There should be an option to watch meetings at home, in a YouTube speed of 1.5 or 2, and comment on a forum as needed.
- Marketing. The agenda posted online provides only one or two sentences about each topic. It has no details to explain how it impacts Neighbor Bob across the street.
- Location. Why are all public meetings held in the Town Barn? If officials want suggestions to renovate Cates Creek Park, then consider meeting in the park and finding residents who use the facility.
One way to bolster citizen engagement is to canvas for it. Require each official to obtain at least five comments (via cold call) before opening the topic in a meeting. Cumbersome issues like affordable housing should require a quorum of residents who are affected by the issue and local organizations that work closely in that space. I know there’s arguments made about the value of public opinion, but if the purpose of these meetings is to include the public then we can certainly do a better job of it.