I am totally disappointed in the public hearing system. The town government thinks that no one cares enough to participate. That is not what is going on. Below I would like to share my experience and offer possible solutions to the numerous problems.
When I went around to talk to my neighbors on Arch Road, no one knew that Reflexite was planning to double the size of their factory.
- THE FIX: Require adjacent property owners, within a certain radius, to be notified.
Most neighbors told me that they did not believe that speaking up would change anything.
- THE FIX: Let the citizens know, at every opportunity, that their voice matters.
The town’s system for participation is dis-empowering. Let’s take the public hearings as an example:
An agenda that has two items that will impact our street was emailed on Friday afternoon - after the office had closed - and the hearing was on the following Tuesday! In this example, we received 48 business hour’s notice…. How are we supposed to talk to our neighbors to make sure everyone knows? Get everyone info? Change our schedules? Arrange for babysitters so people can attend the hearing? This is rude, or worse (is this a tactic?).
- THE FIX: Require agendas to be published two weeks before the hearing.
In order to find out what the developers are proposing, we have to call the town. (But in this case, they were already closed for the weekend at 12:30 p.m., when the agenda arrived via email at 12:56 p.m.)
- THE FIX: Put an explanation on each agenda item on the agenda.
When we get to the hearing, the room is set up so that the committee is up on a stage, “above” the people.
- THE FIX: Remove the platform.
The developers get to sit in front, at tables, with all their plans facing the committee, so that the audience can’t even see them.
- THE FIX: require all plans to be online, so we can examine them ahead of time. Allow the developers to post a video of their presentation ahead of time.
If the public sends in a letter, it is not read aloud at the hearing, giving it much less weight.
- THE FIX: Require letters to be read at the hearings.
“New Applications” is a section at the bottom of the agenda. This is where brand-new items that the town staff did not feel required a public hearing go. By putting items in this category, however, appears to remove the public’s ability to ask question, or comment on the application. I feel that this removes public power.
- THE FIX: Allow questions and comment on all agenda items.
Can we start to see how dis-empowering this process is? And the big question, do we have the will to fix it?
P.S. All that said, I would also like to acknowledge the time and effort put in by all the committee volunteers - thank you all, (system short-comings are not your fault).