What can be said in just 10 minutes?

By The Curry Coastal Pilot March 31, 2010 10:48 am

What’s wrong with the first paragraph in the following press release from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife? (Hint: It has something to do with the  time allocated for the public to speak.)

“The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and the Rogue SMU Fall Chinook Conservation Plan advisory committee will meet April 5 at the Chetco Public Library, 405 Alder Street, Brookings. The meeting runs 6 to 8:30 p.m. and the public has 10 minutes to comment at the end of the meeting.

Ten minutes? They don’t know Brookings-Harbor very well, now do they. Just two of our regular public speakers could easily take up those 10 minutes. 

From time to time, government entities forget that the purpose of their public meetings is to engage the public; to get public opinions and feedback on decisions that directly or indirectly impact our communities.

Ten minutes hardly seems long enough to accomplish that. Perhaps that’s the intent?

Seeking public opinion can get messy. It can complicate an otherwise routine meeting and, GASP!, take up time.

It’s much easier to direct people who wish to make a comment to a Web site or an e-mail address then it is  to hear them out in person. It’s quite impersonal and sad.

But it doesn’t happen all the time.

We are glad to report that most of Curry County’s public entities – the county, the city of Brookings and the school district – regularly leave adequate time at meetings for the public comments. Of course, there are a few residents who abuse that opportunity, while many more wait to the last minute to speak up, or not at all.

In order for government to work, citizens needs to be involved in the process. This enables them to view their government at work and to influence its deliberations. In turn, officials gain credibility by allowing citizens to observe their information-gathering and decision-making process.

Public opinion can and often does sway a public entity’s decision. Citizens who really care need to be more proactive, voicing their concerns earlier in the process. At the same time, our public officials must make every effort to welcome citizens into the decision-making process.