by Dave DeMars
For 15 years and then some I have been going to meetings – city council meetings, school board meetings, county commissioner meetings, town board meetings and other assorted board meetings. On the whole I find them interesting – some more than others. Some say all these meetings are boring, but I believe boredom says more about the person claiming to be bored than it does about the so called “boring subject.”
Of course there is a time when meetings can get boring. What, you say? How can I make such a statement after saying what I did in the previous paragraph? Fair question Let me explain.
I get a bit bored and more than a bit irritated when members of the board, the commission, the council mumble or when they speak to one another in tones so hushed, or in a volume so low, only a hearing-aid dog could pick up the sound.
And guess what. It makes no difference if they have a $5,000 public-address system or not. A public-address system only works when you speak into the mic. Most are uni-directional meaning they don’t pick up sound if not spoken into fairly directly. Since most city halls and board rooms now rival small college theaters and are set up so the audience is a minimum of 15 feet from the speaker, anyone not speaking to the audience as well as to someone on the dais can’t be heard.
My first city council meeting was in Becker. Perhaps that spoiled me. Everyone on the council and in chambers spoke into the microphone, and even when not using a microphone made sure they were loud enough to be heard in the back of the room.
On the other hand, a three-person township board where I sat no more than 5 feet from the chair was not so accommodating. Only the chair spoke most of the time. The other two members mostly communicated in nods, grunts, growls and belches punctuated by the arched eyebrow, the eye roll or the hundred-yard stare.
Whenever there was a need for board action, the chair would say, “Do we have a motion to approve the minutes?”
And then the chair would say, “Motion by Joe, seconded by Mark. All in favor?”
There would be a low growl.
“Opposed – same sign. Motion carried.”
Then there was another meeting group who held their meetings in a room just outside a furnace-blower area. They could hear one another usually but when pushed they would simply shout a number out. Everyone had the newly revised agenda, so they could vote and the audience would never know what was voted on. This group really carried on the public’s business in a very private way.
In another commission, they would meet an hour before the actual scheduled meeting. They would talk about the upcoming meeting, decide on who would make which motion and then proceed to hold a meeting. There was never a decision that wasn’t hashed out in the privacy of the back office prior to coming to the public. Call it a pre-meeting workshop.
“It saves a lot of time and embarrassment and there is little argument when we are all on the same page,” one commission member said.
Of course there were no actual votes taken at the pre-meeting workshop, but the results were pretty well cut-and-dried. Seldom did a concern come up for a vote that hadn’t already been decided. This in a state that prides itself on its open-meeting laws and transparency.
City councils, school boards, county commissioners and all the park boards, planning commissions and human-rights councils are all politics being practiced at a very basic level. In fact. according to Merriam-Webster, the word politics derives from the Greek word meaning “city” and the related word polītēs, meaning “citizen.” It gives us the term. meaning cities or communities or the citizens who live in them.
So Mr. Mayor, Council Member, Board Member, Commissioner – when you are debating policy, setting agendas, passing budgets or other resolutions, speak up and speak out so we can all hear you and know what you want to do. Don’t bore us to tears.