Q #8 How can busy citizens participate?

8.    Many people feel removed from town decisions because there are so many complicated long-range town processes underway. They cannot track them all. Most with busy lives cannot attend multiple long meetings. How can people have their say in decisions that affect them under these circumstances?

George Cianciola   As much as I want to see the visions of CH2020 implemented as quickly and efficiently as possible, I believe that the current process of simultaneously moving forward on multiple processes is both undesirable and unsustainable.  It is not only taxing the abilities and stamina of the Town’s staff but it is very difficult to keep the Town’s citizens actively and effectively engaged when there are so many meetings involving so much information in such a short period of time.

I believe that we should move forward with only 1-2 processes at a time so that the public can be more effectively engaged.  However, I also believe that the processes that are being moved forward need to have a reasonable timeline laid out at the beginning so that the public understands how the process will proceed, at what pace, and when it will conclude.  Although there can be modifications in these parameters along the way the public should have an expectation that these processes will have a timely conclusion.  A long, drawn-out process not only consumes valuable resources but it diminishes the desire of citizens to participate and results in a less-useful product.

Sally Greene   This is not a new issue, though perhaps the intensity of the issue is new. Chapel Hill has a very high participation rate, and in my experience it always has. Just as not all Council members develop the same areas of expertise, yet when we come together we bring a broad range of expertise, not all community members are going to be interested to the same level with every planning initiative. For example, the Rosemary Imagined project draws a different crowd than does the Central West project. So while it is unfortunate that they may meet at the same time, it is not disastrous, for two reasons: one, it’s a different crowd (though surely with some overlap); two, the Town is doing a better job than ever in recording and reporting on events, when possible via video, so that people can view them any time. Some meetings have included on-site day care. Other meetings can take place in non-traditional forums (see 1 above). Email is always available for citizens to give feedback, as, of course, are Council members.

Ed Harrison   In almost three decades as a neighborhood activist – I didn’t stop being one when elected to Council – I’ve found that a solution to this is elusive. I’m willing to consider every potential solution.

Town government has begun in recent years to move to internet-based surveys, and all of them have been problematical. Council members have stated preference that budget issues, for example, should get survey results only from Town taxpayers. Because, “on the internet, no one knows you’re a dog” – or a Carrboro resident – this appears impossible to manage (account numbers on tax bills is the only approach I see).

Community groups can give more people “their say” through carefully organized public presentations. But that places so much of the burden on volunteers, those with “busy lives.” The increasing use of listservs and/or blogs appears to have helped information dispersal in major ways. But it’s rare that government staff at any level utilize internet approaches as fully as they can. So often, the obvious questions aren’t addressed. But I’d still advocate for more and more use of the internet and the many ways we now receive its products.  Overall, I’d say that local government needs to get better at explaining its processes and products, and better and more focused about informing residents who have little time to deal with them.

Loren Hintz   The town needs to do a better job of summarizing in one place all of the activities and their purposes. The town should create a spread sheet with topic, contact info, link to detailed info, purpose and implementation time line.  No one individual can attend all of the meetings. This is why community organizations are important. Members of organizations can attend different meetings and report back. Also some task forces are neighborhood specific. I don’t think we should try to get a moratorium on the activities, but in some cases certain deadlines may need to be postponed.

Gary Kahn  They can check newspaper and websites and then (send) email or letters.

Paul Neebe    This is where I think elected officials come in. If a citizen has a concern, they should be able to contact their elected officials and receive some sort of personal response in a timely manner.  Perhaps there could be a community update meeting planned every month with at least one Council member present.

Maria Palmer    We need more transparency and everything needs to be on line and downloadable. Nobody (except perhaps Julie McClintock), can attend all the meetings, but we can still be informed and involved.

Amy Ryan   The current pace of the 2020 implementation schedule is demanding at best, and it does restrict the ability of citizens to participate, as multiple events are now being held at the same time throughout town. The Planning Board is petitioning Council about this very issue, requesting that they slow down some of these processes so that there is more time for the public to understand and engage in discussions on the various issues and to attend the public meetings.  I fully support our petition and hope that Council will take action to spread out the meetings so that community members will be able to engage on all these important issues.

DC Swinton  A potential solution for this would be creating a list-serv for the carious projects transpiring in the Town.  Citizens could sign up for updates regarding the events that interest them, and there could be separate e-mail in this system for comments, questions, and opinions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *