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."