Public meetings

Lost Opportunity by Following the “Rules”

Communities need to keep people involved, even at work sessionsSometimes people don’t know the rules. At a recent small town city council work session, a local resident wanted to share an idea to solve a problem under discussion. He raised his hand. He politely asked to talk with the council. But the council chair said, “no,” adding: “Work sessions are a public meeting without public comment.”

Mumbling, the man walked out and probably never will attend another city meeting again.

Limiting public comment at council work sessions is appropriate. Without the rule, nothing would get done. However, communities should consider ways to get and keep people involved, even at work sessions.

To improve engagement, communities should:

  • Ask attendees to sign in, providing name, address, phone number and email address.
  • Start the meeting with a short explanation to the audience about the rules.
  • Encourage people to share ideas using comment cards or make a computer available to sign-in and comment.
  • Assign a staff person or elected official to talk briefly with people attending.
  • The next day send a thank you note to each person who attended meeting. Ask staff to follow up with people who have problems, comments or suggestions.

Negative opinions of local, state and federal government are widespread. Using simple engagement tools would help to rebuild public confidence — one person at a time.