Saturday, May 19, 2007

Give Civic Involvement a Chance

Next week, the City Council meets on Monday and Wednesday. Then the governing body goes on election hiatus and won’t meet again until mid-June. In June, July and August, there will be only one agenda session and one regular meeting.

Maybe that will make it easier for people to focus on what the council is doing, or maybe vacations and such will take attention away from such meetings.

For several years, newspapers have retreated from covering meetings, but the truth is that some very important decisions take place at council, planning and zoning meetings. The city is in the midst of a new approach to redevelopment and the specter of eminent domain is haunting property owners who have plans of their own. A recent turnout of business owners from the Netherwood redevelopment study area shows that people can make time for meetings if they feel that council action will affect them directly.

But not all council decisions are as dramatic as authorizing a study of more than 90 properties for redevelopment. Many are more subtle, such as the repeal of the so-called Safe Housing ordinance. On the face of it, the repeal saves landlords a lot of money and bother. They no longer have to know or say how many people are living in their buildings or whether the buildings are safe. The state only checks every five years, so there could be an illegal basement or attic apartment for some time before it is discovered. Some have been exposed tragically through fires and deaths.

The council meetings are where taxpayers find out how their money is being spent, what policies the governing body favors or rejects and how elected officials behave. Do they ask questions or is everything foregone? Who asks the questions? How does the administration answer?

The summer agenda sessions are June 18, July 16 and August 20. The regular meetings, at which votes are taken, are June 20, July 18 and August 22. Groups such as business organizations and block associations can send representatives to attend and report back. Lately, the meetings have been short, sometimes less than half an hour.

Plans for council newsletters or televised meetings have yet to materialize. People still have to go see for themselves what is going on. It’s important for the governing body to see citizens watching what goes on. Civic interest can support good government action and ward off or temper bad decisions. Give it a try.


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