Thoughts about the public process
July 31, 2003
I’ve had the privilege of sitting on the town dias for a number of years – first as a planning commissioner, then as commission chair, as councilmember and now as mayor. Nothing during that entire time, has given me more satisfaction and frustration than the “public process.”
In my mind, the only way good decisions can be made on behalf of the public requires individual citizens to voice their opinions so that decision makers understand not only people’s feelings, but more importantly the reasoning behind them.
When I speak of the public process as a source of satisfaction, I can look to things like the original General Plan, the Downtown Specific Plan, the Trails Plan, and the just completed Historic Preservation Plan as projects that consisted of a great deal of public involvement. The reason for this article comes from the occasional frustration related to criticism from folks about the process itself.
A recent letter to the editor strongly suggested that the council doesn’t listen to the public. It related to a project that hasn’t been processed by town staff yet, hasn’t gone to the planning commission yet, and therefore not to the council for consideration. The suggestion that the council isn’t listening simply had no merit.
Often a letter is written stating the council didn’t listen on an issue that has, in fact, been before the council. The frustration here again is that that is usually not true. The council does listen. It is human nature however, to have this feeling if a decision did not go the way you felt it should have.
So what is it that the public can do to influence the public process? Showing up is number one. Believe me; an audience elevates the heat up there. More importantly, when a member of the public has the guts to approach the podium and express a particular point stated in the context of how they believe their point makes more sense, in relation to plans or policies, than someone else’s position, outcomes can and often are swayed. Furthermore, seeing for yourself what really happens, often makes some of those letters to the editor seem somewhat disingenuous.
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Citizen positions based on facts as you know them are very much appreciated and I believe my colleagues would state the same. I would only paraphrase something that – as some insightful scientist once said – one reaction may trigger an equal and opposite reaction. So please give us your input, both positive and negative. We value it and it does truly affect public policy.
Hope to see you at the next council meeting.
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