How to make public hearings more interactive

  • Saturday, August 24, 2019 1:30am
  • Opinion

At Monday’s Marysville School Board meeting, I asked during a public hearing on the budget why discussion of it didn’t take place at a public meeting.

Finance director Mike Sullivan corrected me saying work sessions are public meetings.

He’s right, but he’s missing the point. Hardly anyone goes to those meetings. My point was that with an issue as important as the budget, there needs to be discussion at a school board meeting – one that people actually attend.

To be fair, Marysville and Arlington city councils and the Arlington school board usually do the same thing. But that needs to change.

Monday, there wasn’t even an overview of the budget so those in attendance could form questions that they could ask during the hearing.

True, the information is available online, and the district paid for the required public notices in a newspaper. But very few people pay attention to those things.

To really have a public hearing, the people there needed to know something about it. Without that information they couldn’t ask questions like:

•Why is the fund balance dropping from $18.5 million to $13 million this year, but is projected to level off after that?

•In the last three years, why has the general fund grown from $149 million to $167 million to $180 million? I could have asked those questions and probably gotten answers to them for a story. But the district really should be providing that information without the public having to search line by line through a 122-page document like I did. I couldn’t even find an overview online. I’m not saying there’s anything secretive about the budget process. It was done out in the open. But I am saying the district could serve the public better by providing that information at one of its main meetings. Same goes for the school board in Arlington and the city councils in both towns.

We’re hearing about climate change all the time now. While I oppose Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal for costing too much for too little gain, there is one simple step that could be done in every community that could at least reduce gas emissions.

I’m talking about free right turns. I can’t tell you the number of times every day I sit at a stoplight and wait and wait and wait because the driver in front of me wants to go straight. It’s especially frustrating when there is a lane next to us that driver could have been in.

But when there’s a single line there’s a simple solution. Often there is a bike lane there and a wide sidewalk that is almost never used, while traffic could be using that space all the time.

Why don’t cities use that area for right-turn lanes instead and help the flow of traffic and the climate? Certainly the seldom-seen foot and bike traffic don’t need all that space.

Political candidates have a huge advantage over others when it comes to signs. If an organization, such as the American Cancer Society, wants to put up a sign for its Relay for Life, for example, it has a very short window of time to put it up and take it down.

Politicians in Marysville can put up signs whenever they want before an election. But they have seven days after to take them down. Too many political signs are still up past the deadline for the Aug. 6 primary, which was Aug. 13. Please take them down.

Steve Powell is managing editor of The Marysville Globe and The Arlington Times. His Backseat Coach column runs as needed.

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