When Public Participation Isn’t

fullcouncilSo much time is wasted at City Council Meetings on battles we should not be having. The City needs to engage people early and often, not slam decisions through on a 72-hour notice with a 300 page document that won’t download from the City website.

Public hearings may be scheduled, announced, and occur as required by law, but these minimal efforts don’t seem to be working well for Fullerton residents who want to be engaged. We should take great advantage of the energy and interest of residents who mostly have the good of all residents at heart.

So why don’t we?

  • Notice public meetings well in advance so busy working people and families can attend
  • Inform the public rather than assume they are disinterested or incapable of comprehending
  • Listen to public questions, provide satisfying responses and address real concerns
  • Consider the perspective of each speaker and how they see a potential decision will impact them

Public Hearings should mean what the name says so residents don’t feel like it’s nothing more than a formality. We need policies to ensure adequate time is available for the community to express concerns and for the City Council and staff to fully address concerns.

We should ensure proper and thorough communication beyond what is legally required so that everyone who wants to can participate in planning decisions. We need a user-group committee to discover problems, recommend fixes, and confirm corrections to the difficulties experienced by various users trying to get information on the City’s website. We also need to utilize existing social media and print better to communicate directly with residents.

Our commissions and committees need to be consulted at every opportunity. Proposals should be vetted by commissions and committees, with proper notice and scheduled at a time when working people are able to attend. Input should be used to make changes to a proposal before it is placed on the City Council agenda.

In response to more people participating at City Council Meetings, the City Council has rearranged the order of the agenda and shortened the speaking times and now adamantly imposes the new limitations in an attempt to discourage meaningful discourse at public meetings. They seem to have the perspective that it’s a lot easier to do the City’s business when you don’t have to listen to a bunch of noisy people showing up at City Council Meetings.

My perspective is different. It’s a good thing that people want to participate. A council should be respectful and responsive to the community. Council members should be able to clearly and logically explain their reasoning for a decision or incorporate compromise into the decision process.