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Restoring civility, professionalism, and public participation at VB Meetings

posted Mar 4, 2015, 3:08 PM by Doug Roberts   [ updated Mar 8, 2015, 4:10 PM ]
Here's the plan I will propose to the new Mayor for re-engaging a disenchanted and disgruntled electorate and rebuild the public's trust in Village Hall.  

  • Meeting agendas, minutes, and other related documents are posted all in one section of the website (instead of several links)
  • Agendas and Public Hearing documents are posted 2 business days before the meeting
  • All documents will be "searchable" so the public can search for, say, "Tall Ships" and find the taxpayer money that is to be spent on that event
  • All financial documents will list, in one table, the expenses and revenues, as well as the net profit/loss, for each Village budget category. I'd like to see some sub-categories for major village functions, such as Mitchell Marina.  
  • Meetings should be at 7:00pm or later
  • The recording made of the meetings will be posted on a Village-managed Vimeo or Youtube page the night of the meeting or the morning after, ideally with the meeting documents attached
  • The Village will open an official FB account (vs. relying on one Trustee's campaign FB page) to disseminate information.  This account will be visible to anybody in the public via the Village Website, even those who don't have FB accounts. While helpful in emergencies, this can also be used to provide a link to the latest meeting minutes and the meeting video. It should literally provide a running catalogue of goings-on with the Village government. Pretty much every government agency does this with regularity.  It is easy and very inexpensive.
  • The Mayor, Trustees, and Village employees will return all emails from Village residents within 2 business days (as long as the tone and content of the email are respectful).  We won't always have an answer, and we may not have an answer that the person asking the question wants to hear, but we will respond. It's our duty to respect members of the public who reach out to us.
  • The public will be allowed to address the Board at EVERY MEETING, including Work Sessions.  Ideally, there would be an opportunity for the public to speak at the beginning and end of each meeting.  There are going to be rules, though:
    • Each speaker gets one shot to speak per public address period. So, if there's a public address opportunity at the beginning of the meeting, and a person speaks, she/he would be able to speak again at the end-of-meeting public address period, but not again during the beginning-meeting public address period
    • Each speaker is allotted a maximum of 3 minutes each time they speak, and we'll ask the public to honor this time limit given that we're going to open up 3 additional public comment periods per month!
    • The Board will listen and refrain from making faces, rolling eyes, interrupting, or otherwise being disrespectful to the speaker.  Having seen my share of eye-rolls lately from the Trustees while at that podium, I can tell you that it gets you pretty fired up to run against them for their seats so we can change how they treat us! 
    • The public will refrain from interrupting other speakers
    • After the public comment period is closed, The Board may choose to respond, but if they call out specific speakers from the audience, they should expect to allow that person to respond in-kind. 
    • This is not a new rule, but I've never seen this group do this: if more public comment is needed, a Trustee may move to open a new public comment period, and if there are 3 votes, we go back to listening to the public- which, by the way, is what we're elected to do.  
I'm aware that as a Trustee I will be 1 of 5 votes on this board and that the Mayor will set a lot of these policies. Julie and George, hope you're reading this!  I hope we'll be able to discuss after March 18! 

We need to increase participation in this government.  We have a lot of really talented and passionate people who live here, and they all have ideas.  Like all ideas- including those proposed by government officials- some are good, some maybe aren't right.  But they all deserve to be heard.  These Trustees alienate the public by trying to keep them from speaking.  When folks get upset about being shut down, the Board sits quietly as threats are made to call the police on their neighbors. I'm not defending out-of-order outbursts and I'm not saying we should be yelling at each other.  I am saying that I will work hard to include the viewpoints of the public I will serve, and that will improve the overall level of civility and professionalism in Greenport's Village Government.  If we are successful, the new Mayor will never have to use his/her gavel.