One would assume the elected officials want to make sure they are receiving public input throughout the time a course of action is being examined. Having verifiable facts, in addition to a range of views for consideration, produces better decisions by the political leadership. But Elkton creates significant challenges for stakeholders hoping to offer constructive comments or simply trying to stay informed.
At an important workshop last week substantial town business was discussed. That included a proposal to transfer waived fees between parties, something the town had never done before. Also the idea of creating a new blight control strategy was introduced as a way to frame the request.
Here’s how Elkton’s published agenda informed people about this new precedent setting policy. It simply announced the time of meeting and that is it. Once a workshop starts anything (and we mean anything) can be discussed, but citizens have no way of knowing what the elected leadership is considering. Glance at the Chesapeake City agenda below to see how helpful that municipality is at informing citizens. It provides a detailed workshop agenda.
At workshops commissioners typically get details on proposals, ask questions, and decide how they’re going to vote on an issue. Unless something most extraordinary happens, they will simply cast their vote at the monthly meeting. Citizens won’t get a chance to comment until after it’s over.
That’s precisely what happened Wednesday evening. The audience heard something of importance being enacted but there wasn’t enough information in the pre-scripted proceedings to figure it out since the details had been settled in the workshop. So wait the citizens did as the mayor used his gavel to enforce order in the restless audience. That is until it got to the public section where the gloves came off for unscripted action. The public, not holding back, had loads of pointed questions. Plus the commissioners started challenging the public, which included respected former municipal and community leaders. By-the-way, this is all something we’re too familiar with for the same thing happened when three members of the board tried to let a developer have public land at Elk Landing.
After the commissioners made the decision earlier and informed professional staff what they wanted done, the nature of the regular meeting was predictable, except for officials engaging people in debate. That one surprised us a little! It would be so much better for municipal government to put lots of sunshine on tasks. If the public disagrees once that is done, you’ll at least know what they’re thinking and have the opportunity to consider other viewpoints before it’s a done deal. Also the public won’t be able to say they weren’t informed. All this seems like strong plusses to do something that is so easy to implement. But we guess the commissioners never though of this improvement opportunity or this outcome.
We once again encourage the political leadership in Elkton to start publishing workshop agendas. It’s easy to do, it opens up the political process, is ideal for good government, and just makes sense. By-the-way, to raise a second point, why not allow citizens comments at these meetings? By-the time they’re allowed to speak in Elkton, the issue is decided and usually over with. That just creates problems for everyone, including the town board.