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Public Hearings Often Lack Public Speakers

The City Council discusses whether enough is done to promote what is happening at City Hall.

Last month's public hearing for the city of Attleboro's 2012-13 fiscal year budget featured a grand total of one speaker. The next week, City Councilor Mark Cooper received phone calls from residents asking him when they could comment on the budget, prompting him to wonder if the city does enough to promote public hearings and other happenings at .

The lack of speakers at the budget hearing is not a rarity for Attleboro council meetings, but rather it is the norm. Most public hearings feature no speakers, and when there are participants, the number can usually be counted on one hand. Attendance at meetings is almost non-existent, with the audience usually consisting of local media, one regular and the occasional city staff member. 

"Perhaps we are missing an opportunity to let the public know," said Cooper during a recent council meeting.

City Council President Frank Cook noted that the budget hearing was advertised in The Sun Chronicle and notices appeared on the cable channel as well as on the city's website. Cooper said that is probably not enough. One idea he had was the use of electronic signs.

"You can spend all the money you want in an ad in the newspaper, it doesn’t matter," Cooper said. "People read it today, and they try to remember not to forget—and they can't."

Other ideas mentioned were the use of reverse 911 and social media.

Cook said more people would come to council meetings if they weren't televised.

"When we did not have these cameras in here, we had more people in here," Cook said.

Council Vice President Peter Blais said there was more public participation in the past when Attleboro was a community with residents who also worked in the city. Today, many people leave the city for work early in the morning and do not return until the evening or later.

"I don't want to say they don't have the interest, but they don't have the same interest as the people who used to work in Attleboro and go to those meetings," Blais said.  

He added, "I think we're doing as good job as possible to get the information out, and anybody that's really concerned and wants to know what's going on in City Hall, they can look at the website and whatnot. There are avenues of finding out if you really want to know."

Roxanne Houghton July 02, 2012 at 12:54 PM
City Councilor Peter Blais states that people dont have the same interest in city matters as they used to. I disagree. Does it really matter what people say at public hearings and how they feel? Within the past year or so, the tone of public hearings have changed. Some Councilors use this forum to state their opinions on the stated issue, and even get into arguments with the resident standing at the podium. Where is the leadership that allows this to happen? Public hearings are for the public and a chance for them to express their thoughts on a subject - not an opportunity for a councilor to express their displeasure on public thoughts. Secondly, there have been many times in the past where people flooded city hall for a public hearing: our wetland ordinance - the Locust Valley issue are 2 examples. The public was ignored as well connected "voices" carry far more weight than 100 average citizens. Quite a few residents spoke in favor of the Scenic Route ordinance. Lets see if they are ignored, as well...... As far as Peter Blais comment that people arent interested.....lets remind him how he treated "the public" at the hearings on the farmers market.....rude comments....insults......Why would anyone want to share their thoughts at a public hearing, and risk being treated like that? I dont think that people arent interested...they have learned that their voices really dont matter - particularly in Blais's case. He votes the way he is told to.
Roxanne Houghton July 02, 2012 at 01:10 PM
I would remind Petere Blais that he voted against the Wetland Protection Ordinance - which most residents of Attleboro wanted. He voted against the hiring of Paramedics which 99.9% of Attleboro residents wanted. He tried to sabotage the Farmers Market, which is extremely popular........the list goes on.......Of all of our elected officials, Peter Blais is the least interested in anything said at a public hearing...In fact there have been residents who dont speak up at a public hearing - because of his rude and callous behavior. Why would anyone speak on the Budget? Didnt Peter Blais just announce to his fellow councilors that he wanted NO CHANGES - that it was good enough just as it is???? It is laughable that Mr Blais would be talking about lack of participation in a public hearing.........
Gretchen Robinson July 02, 2012 at 02:37 PM
It sounds like an excuse to do nothing and to preserve the status quo. How about some community building here. Invite the public with each person allotted a 5 minute slot on any topic. How about really finding out what's on people's minds. I have several topics I'd like to speak about. Of course, put parameters on it, no blanket condemnations and no personal attacks. Keep it positive. Let's move into the future. Invite the rising generation in, too. They are the future. If you want the public to be interested in you, (CC), then be interested in them, in what's on their/our minds.
Jerry Chase July 02, 2012 at 06:35 PM
One thing that could be done is to have the "Committee of the Whole" START the Council meetings. This is the time other than public hearings for the citizens to address the Council 'as a whole'. But, of course, there is unwillingness within the Council leadership [F.C.] to change the order of Council business, the "agenda". I still remember residents of South Attleboro's Bacon and Westminster Streets having to wait until 9:45 p.m., just for the start of such discussions and public input. This treats City taxpayers shamefully, in my opinion. If the Council exists to represent the voters, then the voters should have the first opportunity to speak----right at 7:00 p.m.----and not making them wait for hours.
Jerry Chase July 02, 2012 at 06:38 PM
A note to camera-dodging councilors: AACS ought to have a TV camera w/ mike in Linda Alger's office and the adjoining chamber. Hey, maybe there's something they don't want disclosed . . . . and if the two of 'em happen to belong to any given standing committee, doesn't that constitute a OML violation? That's all Martha Coakley's office cares about.
Jerry Chase July 02, 2012 at 06:44 PM
Interesting headline here. There's another "lack" - - - - councilors with sufficient courage to speak about various points of municipal over-spending. Since the Council, both individually and collectively, are charge to represent the taxpayers, why are City councilors so reticent, so unwilling to speak publicly on TV during Council meetings on the things that are of high import, such as City spending? One does: Mr. Conti. Why not the others? I guess rubber-stamps don't make much noise.
Roxanne Houghton July 02, 2012 at 09:06 PM
Think back to the Public Hearing that was just held regarding the Scenic Route Ordinance.......I watched that hearing and when Ellen Parker took to the podium, as an interested Attleboro citizen who has volunteered her time to the Historic Commission for many years, she was treated in a very negative manner - if not a outright hostile manner, by the Chairperson of the Planning Board. Didnt anyone from the City Council notice? If so - nobody spoke up. It was clear that this person did not have an open mind - which is how our officials are supposed to operate.......right? He was only interested in why Attleboro CANT apply this ordinance - nothing more. It was also clear from the nodding from one of the Councilors, that they were "in sync" - one of the "old thinkers" - guess who? That anyone on the council really wonders why people dont bother to go to public hearings is mind boggling..... Ask yourselves, and be honest - would it have made any difference if 100 people showed up at the budget hearings? Would all of our newly raised fees have been voted down? Raises for some employees? Raises for city officials? Be honest, if not with the residents of Attleboro, but with yourselves........That the Historic Commission volunteers and other members of the public stood at the podium and asked you to instate a Scenic Route Ordinance.....did it really make any difference?
Steven Scott July 03, 2012 at 12:16 AM
I would say there are some bitter comments here, but I have noticed the same thing. Citizens get ridiculed by councilors who seem to think they are better or smarter than those who elect them.
Tisiphone July 03, 2012 at 02:10 AM
I think that it is part of a general understanding of the electorate (nationally)that "periods of public comment" and "opportunities to speak" are simply cover. The decision has been made and the public comments are just window dressing. Note how the Supreme Court has been cracking on the EPA for outrageous regulations, despite extensive "periods for public comment".
Gretchen Robinson July 03, 2012 at 02:21 PM
Tizzy, why don't you post by your real name? Or are you one of the posters here, double dipping and making comments twice? you see the climate of suspicion that pen names create. Comments are distrusted because there is no name to them.
Jerry Chase July 03, 2012 at 06:37 PM
I think that it was Barney Frank that once said, "Politics ain't beanbag." I'll grant to Roxanne that some speakers before the Council are treated poorly. There are also some councilors or former councilors that are treated poorly, too. It's not right. Why not have the "open mike" time right at the beginning of the meetings. This would convey the message that what residents think is important. The citizens would not have to wait around for some interminal, unknown time slot. In terms of the proposed Scenic Road Ordinance, when I was on the Council in '08 - '09, as chairperson of the Ordinance Committee, I took an unscientific-but-fair survey of various sorts of people in Attleboro at that time, because I wanted to know personally if there was any grass-roots desire for such. I found none at all. To be fair, I'm sure there remain a few who do want one. But after my survey, I knew that there simply was not a desire for such an ordinance in the City per the majority of the residents. There is no reason for me to think that such has changed in 3 years. It is what it is, in the vernacular.

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