Citizens Never Don’t Belong at Public Meetings

The intent of this column was to encourage those who are interested but hesitant to join in the public process.        

  Citizens are directly or indirectly taxpayers which makes them the financiers and owners of government.  Therefore, citizens have the right to be active in government proceedings meaning that they “never don’t belong at public meetings.”

          For local government to work best there must be citizen involvement.   For that to happen the date, time, and purpose of all meetings must be prominently publicized.  This means agendas must be placed in local papers and/or placed in any local government newsletter accompanying utility or tax bills not just listed on a website.  Meeting dates and what is to be discussed must be common knowledge for there to be effective enlisting of citizen participation.

          If this isn’t happening, citizens are cheated out of being informed about what their government is doing and are denied an opportunity to give input.  If local papers don’t have a policy of placing meeting announcements and agendas in the newspaper for free, then local government should pay to have notices and agendas published.  Government proceedings should never be perceived as being veiled, secretive, exclusive, or elusive.

          Citizens must remind themselves that government meetings are their meetings, not property of the particular council, commission, or staff involved.  Again, the taxes or fees citizens pay entitle them to ownership of the process.  The issues affecting their city or county are their issues not just those of councils, commissions, or staff.  

          It is true we elect people to serve on city councils or county commissions to be our representatives and to act on our behalf, and we vote for those who we believe will most reflect our values.  And if we don’t like what is done by those we elected, we can attempt to alter who works for us at each election cycle.  At that time we can also try to elect those who we believe will make needed changes in top paid staff.  But we can’t count on those we elect to do their best unless they have continual input from the public.

          Citizen ownership is manifested when citizens realize they have the right to attend any meeting and speak at any public forum offered or speak on any agenda item where public testimony is permitted.   At those meetings citizens should be treated with dignity and respect.  This usually will be the case, but if testimony is not welcomed or if there is interference during a citizen’s testimony, a citizen should write a complaint to that government body and write to local newspapers.   That hopefully will cause an immediate change of behavior by the discourteous public servant.

          Many policies of local government are driven by volunteer effort.  The more interest, enthusiasm, and openness encouraged by councils, commissions, and staff by communicating well with the pubic, the more likely there will be enthusiastic and capable volunteers for the committee work necessary to achieve city or county goals.  Inadequate efforts at communication will mean poor participation.

          And deficient citizen participation means too much power goes to a few. That can mean improper over sight, deficient accountability, and probably worse decisions.  Thus, the best local governments have a great amount  of citizen involvement, meaning again, that citizens never don’t belong at public meetings.

Brent Thompson

Brent Thompson has been a Gold Beach home owner since 2000 and Coos County property owner since 1996.  In Ashland and Gold Beach he served as a city councilor and planning, airport, transportation, and downtown beautification commissioner over 35 years of involvement in municipal government.