In response to residents’ concerns about not having an adequate say at town meetings, the Ocean View Town Council voted Tuesday night to try a four-month experimental change at its meetings that would allow for more participation from residents on current issues.
The experiment would allow residents to stand before Council and speak on issues that are on that evening’s agenda before any vote. Residents would also be afforded the opportunity to speak on the record at the end of the meetings, as long as he or she did not already speak at the beginning.
For a town that’s been divided over nearly everything from municipal buildings to volunteer organizations, this is a big step in bridging the proverbial gap between government and citizenry.
The Ocean View Town Council was not doing anything wrong before taking this step. They followed the town’s guidelines regarding audience participation, and offered every legal recourse for residents to speak their minds on issues. There were public grumblings from residents because agendas change from time to time, and people didn’t always know for sure what was going to come up in a particular meeting beforehand because of those changes. It never appeared malicious by town officials, just as it isn’t when it inevitably happens in every town, but officials responded to the public outcry seriously.
And we applaud both the Ocean View Town Council for reacting in this manner, and the residents of the town who went through the proper channels to spur this action.
Democracies are established with the idea that we elect public officials to vote in a way we would like to see them vote. This is the crux of a representative-style government. However, a government is only as strong as the citizens deem it is, and this should go a long way toward both responding directly to constituents’ concerns and boosting public participation on the process itself.
This plan may or may not work. There’s a chance it lengthens meetings beyond the point of efficient government, and could allow grandstanding by people with agendas. Or it could be a huge success. Either way, we are excited that the town’s council voted to try.