Public meetings short on public participation
A couple weeks back, we ran an editorial imploring people to give more due attention to district elections. These elections — which are going on right now, and voters should have received their ballots in the mail — will determine which people guide our local education system, fire protection, and efforts to replace a new pool. The current balloting deserves voter turnout than a measly 23 percent, like the 2015 off-year election.
In the same spirit of encouraging more citizen participation, residents should consider attending government agency meetings, particularly the ones for Crook County Court and Prineville City Council.
Ask any elected city or county leader and they will likely tell you that many of their meetings are very sparsely attended by the general public. Local news reporters would agree without much hesitation. Sure, there are those topics that draw a crowd, but most times, the majority of the seats at meetings are occupied by people either on the agenda or those on local government staff.
We get it — government is not exactly sexy. Meetings can be a bit dry at times. But if you spend much time out in the community or on social media, one thing is clear: People have strong opinions about how their community is run. Shouldn't those thoughts be aired in a public setting for all of the decision-makers to hear? The squeaky wheel gets the grease, as the saying goes. What better place could there be to be the squeaky wheel?
Also, your elected officials want you to show up and voice your opinions. In fact, newly elected city councilor Teresa Rodriguez posted to a widely utilized community Facebook page urging the people who frequently express their opinions online to show up at local meetings and be heard. She is disappointed in how few people make use of the option.
We have heard the arguments against this – a popular one being "simply don't have the time." Really? Perhaps that's true, but didn't several hundred people attend Rep. Greg Walden's most recent town hall? Didn't several hundred show up for two back-to-back meetings on Oregon Wild's National Recreation Area proposal? Band of Brothers packs the Elks Club every week. Rotary and Kiwanis don't seem to have trouble with attendance and "What's Brewing?" pulls in a decent crowd, even though it takes place at 7 a.m. Point is, if it's important enough, people find a way to make it.
The other argument heard is that the government official won't listen anyway. Here is where the ball also lands in the local government's court. If people make a point to show up and express their opinions, it is crucial that the people they elected consider each point seriously and be willing to have an open mind about an issue. Do they have to completely agree and bend to every view? No. But the people who took the time to show up should feel like they were heard and that the officials they put in office treated their issue seriously.
Government functions best when the people who put officials in office participate in the process and make their concerns, criticisms and even praises known. Don't reserve your opinions to the local diner or social media. Voice them where the people who make the decisions can hear them and act.