Wanted: Public Participation at Public Meetings
The Rocket-Courier writers attend a variety of meetings during the course of a month. My beat includes the weekly Bradford County Commissioners’ meeting, as well as monthly meetings conducted by the Wyalusing Township Supervisors and the Wyalusing Area School Board. Attendance has been down at each of these public assemblies over the past few months, and I miss you.
I’ll be the first to admit that these meetings can be largely mundane. They are, as a matter of fact, business meetings, and reviewing applications for new photocopiers or approving the payment of monthly bills is anything but exciting.
It’s part of my job, however, to find excitement and pearls of truth and wisdom among the ordinary, and I enjoy it. Sometimes, there are elements of seemingly routine transactions that can be approved too quickly, and questions from the public can cause those at the table to slow down and explain—if not rethink—their actions. If I’m not familiar with a particular program or grant, I ask questions that can lead to a feature story about one of many organizations or individuals that serve the community.
Each of the meetings is conducted with a different set of rules, but all offer opportunities for public commentary. It is easy to understand why someone who is new to the meetings might feel intimidated, but the commissioners, supervisors, and school board members whom I have worked with to date have shown themselves to be open to outside opinion and patient with first-timers. After all, they were elected to listen to their constituents. Don’t hesitate to call ahead and ask what the public commentary rules are, so that you feel better prepared. At the Bradford County Commissioners, for example, the public is asked to sign in prior to the start of the meeting in order to be recognized by the chairman for an opportunity to speak.
Public commentary makes for interesting meetings. More than once, I have attended meetings with flat agendas suddenly pick up steam when someone comes in with information that is new to the board or even controversial. Even when the elected officials at the front of the room don’t react with as much enthusiasm as the presenter might have hoped, I care about what’s being said, and I have seen attendees clamor at the end of the meeting to learn more about the topics that were brought up.
Few people in the area knew that gas companies were mortgaging the mineral rights that they had leased from property owners in order to maintain a revolving line of credit for operations costs until Diane Ward of Standing Stone Township brought it to the attention of the Bradford County Commissioners on July 28. Although board members may not agree with me, I think that we need more Diane Wards.
If you have an opinion but aren’t yet ready and willing to stand up in public and share it, attending a few meetings to see how they are conducted may boost your comfort level and confidence. I know that summer is a busy time, and you may not be able to attend every meeting. But life will return to normal for most people in the fall, and I hope to see more of you filling all of those empty seats.
Vacations and several conferences geared to elected officials have also affected late summer meeting schedules. The Bradford County Commissioners, who usually meet at 10 a.m. every Thursday, will meet only on Aug. 11 and 25 this month. Wyoming County Commissioners generally meet every other Tuesday at 9 a.m., but the Aug. 16 meeting has been moved to Thursday, Aug. 18. The next two meetings of the Sullivan County Commissioners will be held at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays, Aug. 30 and Sept. 13. Susquehanna County Commissioners, whose scheduled was not altered this month, will meet at 10 a.m. on Wednesdays Aug. 10 and 24.
Almost every municipality and school district have websites with meeting information, as well as phone numbers and email addresses through which you can acquire more detailed information. So, log on, check it out, and get involved. I’ll be looking for you.