Getting answers can be hard. When I have discussed the concept of a public forum — so ZiCC citizens can ask questions and get answers — officials say,
“That’s why we hold meetings. The meetings are open. Why don’t you come and ask questions?”
I go to the meetings. It’s a poor way to ask questions.
If it’s an official “public hearing”, then you have a legal right to stand up and say something. But they don’t call it a “hearing” for no reason because the rules of a hearing say that the officials aren’t even supposed to reply to anything you say. They’re just supposed to listen. And after the “hearing” part of the meeting is over, the officials usually discuss things among themselves as though nobody said anything at all. Certainly, I have seldom heard any question get answered after officials finish their obligation to “hear” the “public”.
Some meetings have an agenda item just to ask questions. For example, to her great credit, Mayor Cluff in Springdale always has a “questions from the community” item on the agenda. That’s a great opportunity to ask about things and I think we should use it more. For example, questions that come up here could be asked as part of that agenda item.
There are just three things wrong with asking questions in a public meeting.
- You have to go to the meeting. This can be a real problem for a lot of folks. And some people really, really don’t like to stand up in a meeting and speak their piece. There ought to be a way where people don’t have to do that and still be able to participate in ZiCC decisions.
- You’re still not part of the discussion. Yes, you can usually ask a question that you already have in mind. But once the regular agenda starts up, there is no requirement for the officials to listen to anything you have to say. The word, “discussion” implies give and take from both sides. That’s hard to do in the context of a formal meeting and frankly, if everybody was trying to discuss things during the meeting, the meeting would be chaos. We need a better way. — Like this web site!
- You have to be prepared with your question in advance. I know that I have a hard time understanding enough about an issue during the meeting to know what to ask–even if I did get a chance to ask. It would be great if you could ask a question before the meeting.(You actually can ask questions outside of the meeting and a lot of people do. You can call or email someone and ask them. That makes the concept of a “public meeting” null and void, however, since your discussion is completely private then. Officials ought to be “publicly” accountable for their answers. The tendency for things to get discussed and resolved in a series of private conversations is one thing that is wrong with local government.)
The concept of this site is to give people a way of discussing an issue publically and outside the difficult format of a public meeting. I’m actually hopeful that officials will logon and answer questions here. (Time will tell.) If the public insists on answers to questions that are raised here, answering them in advance might actually be a good reason to help avoid wasting valuable meeting time.
And …. On this site, the discussion must always be among friends. Friends can disagree, but friends are not disagreeable.
Check out the articles here and maybe we can actually start understanding each other better by better communication.