Public comment at meetings — bane or benefit? — 4/17/2009

My two cents in this thread have been deposited in favor of leveling imbalances in information to increase transparency and faith in the processes of the Village and the two school districts. These steps, I believe, move all of us toward reconciliation post-election and progress as the electees take office.

My working assumption is people will support decisions as justly arrived at, even if those decisions are not exactly what individuals wanted, if they know that basic principles of notice and involvement were adhered to — that basic procedural steps were executed.

My first note was to create an ongoing public dialogue on major issues. Second, I suggested creating a virtual trusteeship (or school board membership) through making board packets available for all but executive session matters. The third idea, related to but distinct from the virtual trusteeship, is pushing out public agendas via RSS, etc.

If all of this is done on a timely basis, then we will not face the prospect referred to way back in this thread of missing a particular commission meeting, with the result being ugly concrete poured in front of a landmark building (such as Central School, the Library, etc.).

Nor will we face the prospect of “Surprise!” items being dealt with in the blink of an eye — not that it happens, but just as prevention.

And I suggest that if these are accomplished we would be opening our (also from way back) New England-y / Rousseauian / Olmstedian home (“Olmstedia“) to the highest ideals of democratic participation in a representative form of government.

NB: All structures can do is open a process, it takes committed residents to cross the threshold of involvement.

But what of the actual meetings?

The meetings are themselves a significant time conribution of our fellow citizens who serve. They almost always come at the expense of family time. Under Illinois open meetings act, they must be informative, deliberative, discursive and decisive.

That’s a lot…

…and they can be significantly lengthened by public comment.

I support public comment and I do not suggest its abandonment. Not at all.

Rather, I suggest that as technology can help level the information balance between officials, staff and residents, it can also provide a compelling alternative to the mechanics of showing up at a meeting and sounding off.

For instance, why not develop into the curriculum for TV production at RBHS a capacity for residents to be recorded in public comment for any of the Boards mentioned, and their Brookfield, LaGrange Park and North Riverside analogs, and the recordings uploaded to a designated part of youtube?

This would help our high school students learn and experience meaningful public involvement by creating “produced” comment — with light graphics or photo drop-ins — as a freshening of the process and as in starting a platform for the entire community to access on demand.

Of course, if people prefer addressing a board face-to-face, as I have on occasion, then nothing would prevent them. But, those who are more comfortable alone in a studio with a camera than in a board room with many people and a camera (in the cases of Riverside and District 208 ) would have a new alternative.

This approach would also provide a new possibility for those for whom meeting attendance is simply inconvenient (those who work in the evening, single parents, others), who are today offered either letter- or email-writing as their alternative.

The trustees or board members could receive a list of posted public comments before the meeting and could regularly update themselves by checking in with youtube.

Board members in turn would better locate comments with respect to their particular agenda item, clicking back and forth bewteen their electronic board packet and the individual comment, for instance. Currently, comment comes at fixed times in the various board meetings. It is almost necessarily separated from its agenda item subject matter.

This approach also would increase options for the board members, who could view comments at their own pace before a meeting and even perhaps re-view them after initial discussion but before voting.

The shareable nature of youtube video increases another element of our comment structure: representative comment. Viral distribution can build support, expressed via emails, rankings, reviews, etc., so that officials may learn by meeting time, or voting, of the actual resonance of a comment in their community of constituents.

Technology’s ability to break down time/space boundaries seems perfectly targeted to increase, equalize, emphasize and fereshen the exchange of Olmstedia’s public bodies with resident. This thread only begins to discuss ideas to speed reconcilation and hasten progress after our elections left winners, losers and their respective supporters elated or disappointed. I appreciate all of the ideas expressed herein, and hope more will pop up. I sense great interest in “getting on with it,” and great interest in the changes implied by us electing only one incumbent in eleven electees. Technology can play a very positive role in all of this for everyone.

It is indeed a moment for everyone to consider new ways of doing things — for our benefit and that of our representatives. Public involvement should not end with voting.

But as it happens my next post will leave technology, at least briefly. My next two cents will be drawn not from the latest Silicon Valley offering, but from a concept developed in the 1930s — agency capture in administrative law. Perhaps obscure, but I think it is another key to propelling the topics of this thread, reconciliation and progress.

Thank you for reading.

POSTED FRIDAY APR 17, 2009 16:49 #
Explore posts in the same categories: Riverside Brookfield High School -- Turnaround

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