Another meeting? Heaven knows, there’s enough to occupy our time without adding another hour or two into tight schedules to sit in metal chairs and loudly discuss yet another community issue.
That’s a bad attitude. Such a sentiment works against our obligations as citizens in maintaining the health, security, vitality and personal relationships of our neighborhoods, towns and regions.
Not every meeting has to be drudgery or a finger-pointing shout fest.
Last month, the Syringa Hospital District held a town hall meeting that covered a range of currently talked about issues, from staffing its VA clinic, questions on its pharmacy, and updates on the opioid problem. Patrons were provided time to question key district staff on areas of concern, and they received direct answers. The agenda was the public’s to dictate, and the mood wasn’t emotionally frantic as the gathering wasn’t assembled in response to a crisis or controversy.
Not every meeting has the luxury to be so calm, but being proactive in community outreach to its constituency can greatly help a governing body to be first in disseminating information; to get its message out first and head off rumors that otherwise will drive and distort the public conversation.
For the officials on all these elected boards out there, the collective sigh at this point is over “yet another meeting,” that in all likelihood will be little-to-not attended … as their already scheduled gathering times demonstrate when they speak to an audience full of empty chairs.
But it’s an effort still worth the trying to provide better transparency for its operations and in continuing to reassure their patrons they are welcome in this process.
How could such efforts have better chances for public participation? A good model from the past few years was seen in the “Growing Our Understanding” sessions, which focused on a specific topic and drew on a range of speakers – public officials, businesspeople, government entities and private organizations – to elaborate on the issue and be available for questions.
What are the concerns? Fire? Assemble fire districts throughout the Clearwater Valley area, to speak to their common concerns, needs and what patrons should be aware of. Crime? Multiple agencies from municipal to federal can address the current situation and invite citizens to be part of the team. There are plenty of concerns, and partnering to speak on these improves interagency relationships and provides a better public draw for participation.
And on that last, we have an obligation to participate. Those boards and agencies can’t do it alone. They need those community supporters to help in these outreach efforts. It’s not enough to say you’ll go; plan to bring a friend, or invite your organization to attend as a group.
Meetings are most often the drudgery we make of them. It’s time we reinvent how we conduct these to make them more informative, productive and better attended.