I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure out how to motivate citizens to get more involved in our town government. With an important election coming in less than two weeks, it worries me that only a small percentage of the national electorate is expected to exercise their right to vote.
When I heard that statistic on last night’s evening news, I was reminded of the last planning commission hearing on Monday, Oct. 6, and the following meeting of the Board of Trustees on Tuesday, Oct. 14. Palisade’s Planning Commission and Board of Trustees have been discussing a medical marijuana “off-premise grow location” application for more than four months, first going through the process to annex a particular piece of land into the Town of Palisade, then rezoning the same piece of property in a separate set of hearings. These actions took place before beginning specific discussions with the applicant regarding their request for an ordinance change to allow for off-premise growing of medicinal marijuana. General discussion as to the possible use of the land for ‘off-premise growing’ of medicinal marijuana was anticipated, but specifics of the application weren’t yet known.
None of this was done secretly, on the contrary, it was all done in the bright light of the Civic Center meeting rooms, at the regularly scheduled meetings of the Planning Commission on the first Monday evening of each month, and the Board of Trustees on the second and fourth Tuesdays. The process began in January for the Trustees, and in June for the Planning Commission and has been reported on periodically in the Daily Sentinel and on PeachTownNews.com as well as local TV stations.
Very occasionally over the summer, there has been a topic of concern to one or two citizens, and they’ve shown up at one meeting or another. On rarer occasions, like the last two meetings, people came out of the woodwork to protest and charge town staff and commissioners with ‘rushing into things’. I’d be interested to know where those folks have been on all the other evenings that we’ve spent hours debating and discussing this topic, because they’ve not been at any of the meetings, although all have been open to the public. Nothing was rushed.
While it would be nice to put the blame for the lack of citizen involvement on the Daily Sentinel for closing our weekly Palisade Tribune and drastically cutting the amount of Palisade news appearing in the daily paper, the fact is that the attendance at either Planning Commission or Trustees meetings hasn’t changed a bit since the closing of the paper.
I’ve been to all but two or three of the Trustee and Planning Commission meetings for the past four+ years, and MUCH of the time, Bill (Hoffmann) and I are the only other people there. Very occasionally someone else will stop in for a while, but mainly it’s Bill and I trying to report objectively and fully, AND, of late, to invent our own platform to communicate the information, so all the people that NEVER attend might know what is going on. Yet, no one makes the effort to read it…only to complain about being uninformed!
And it sure would help if the complainers didn’t all get up and leave in the middle of a meeting next time, as they did at the meeting of the Board of Trustees, when one of their main complaints is not knowing what is going on in town. You can imagine how silly it looked to others of us… like spoiled little kids. It’s hard to know what is going on when people can’t even stay for an entire meeting…yet then complain that no one tells them what is going on. Those folks all went to the trouble to get dressed and drive to the meeting to protest their one issue, but wouldn’t stay to actually see what else might be going on in the town that they were SO concerned about…
Also, lots of complaints of lack of information, but lots of resistance to reading a website… I’m kind of up against a wall there… it’s been made clear that the newspaper isn’t coming back so this is what we’ve got to work with, unless someone wants to fund the printing of a new newspaper, an idea that we would be HAPPY to entertain… :-)
As I said earlier, I can’t honestly say that attendance was any better when we had a weekly paper in town, because it wasn’t. I guess that is what makes me the most unhappy, the fact that no one seems to be paying attention or caring no matter how much information is given out about meeting times and agendas.
I understand that people are busy, kids need help with homework and transportation to activities, and meetings are low on peoples’ priority list. However, we pay our town staff to work and to ‘keep the wheels of government turning’ whether or not we are paying attention. Staff members receive salaries, trustees are paid a stipend, and members of the planning commission are volunteers, but each still puts hours of time into being ready for each meeting, hearing and action item.
When citizens can only show up at the last minute to try to stop what they might have protested more effectively months earlier, it is a serious misuse of everyone’s time and effort, and town staff time (taxpayer money). The last minute protests aren’t ineffective, but they are disrespectful of the process. It is also possible that they may not be heard as clearly as they might have been at an earlier hearing, when the atmosphere was less charged. I don’t want this to sound as though minds are made up before hearings even take place, because they aren’t, but a lot of discussion and fact-finding has taken place by then. Members of the public have not only been invited to each meeting, I feel like I have personally been begging, but we can only do so much if no one shows up.
The only issues in the last few years that have attracted any public attention at all before medical marijuana were the two rounds of Dollar General negotiations, and a mayoral recall a few years ago. As was the case at many of the Dollar General hearings, many of those protesting the possible change in Palisade did not count Palisade as their legal residence and were not voting residents.
I’m NOT saying that everyone concerned doesn’t have a right to be heard, only that the trustees and planning commissioners serve the town per the Palisade Municipal Code, in existence per the Colorado Revised Statutes (all available online). Although the staff, elected representatives and volunteer committee members in Palisade try hard to represent the residents and business owners of the buffer and surrounding areas in addition to the actual ‘square mile’, they also listen hard to the citizens of the square mile of Palisade that elect or hire them. A participatory democracy like ours REQUIRES participation. There isn’t any more visible way to be involved than on the local level in a small town such as ours. There are so many opportunities to volunteer, learn and see how government bodies really work.
There’s also the most obvious way to participate; educate yourself about the candidates and issues, show up at town meetings once in a while, and VOTE!!! There are still almost two weeks ahead to inform yourself and become part of the solution before Tuesday, November 4. An informed electorate is a benefit to all of us. Any meetings of town representatives are open to the public by law, so you can consider this to be your official invitation to participate at the very ground level. PLEASE!
Regarding higher levels of government, it’s easy to complain about our ‘Do Nothing Congress’, and yet WE keep re-electing them (and, more importantly, PAYING them). If we’re going to keep sending the same representatives back to Washington, we can hardly expect different results in the next session. We can’t just complain; we also need to follow the issues and participate.