Do ‘Matters from the Public’ Matter?

By. Neil Williamson, President

Charlottesville, Albemarle County and other localities are struggling with the best management practices to maintain citizen engagement and control of their virtual meetings.

Though not legally required, most localities in our region have traditionally included a regular agenda item to solicit comments from the public on matters not listed on the regular agenda for public hearing.  This unstructured agenda item provides citizens the opportunity to raise issues the locality may have considered or an ugly “truth” they may not want to consider.

As COVID-19 forces meetings online, localities are fearful having such an open ended agenda item may derail their meeting with nonresident nonsense and/or they would be forced to allow all to speak for fear of trampling constitutional free speech. With proper planning, technology and  training these valid concerns can be mitigated.

No photo description available.“Matters from the public” provides citizens a direct, personal contact with the entire elected body far greater than a letter, an e-mail or a phone call ever could.  In our 17 years of service, we have often spoken during this time on a variety of issues but we are not alone.

We have seen three minute presentations from all political and ideological positions:   See the source image

  • The Green Grannies of Charlottesville regularly singing to local electeds about the environmental protection.
  • The League of Women Voters highlighting the suffrage movement and celebrating women’s right to vote
  • A man dressed as a chipmunk to protest the proposed Meadowcreek Parkway
  • The Blue Ridge Home Builders Association discussing Earthcraft training
  • The Albemarle County Farm Bureau supporting land use tax revalidation
  • Dr. Charles Battig debunking Climate Change Data and conclusions
  • Former Supervisor Sally Thomas introducing UVA professor debunking Dr. Charles Battig
  • Monticello High School Seniors presenting their capstone projects
  • Piedmont Environmental Council’s Sean Tubbs discussing his “committed transit ridership” journey
  • Free Union Citizen John Martin advocating for transparency and the Moorman’s River
  • Countless residents concerns about lack of concurrency of infrastructure
  • WINA reporter Gary Grant questioning the issues discussed in closed session
  • and many more.

With so many different perspectives utilizing the “Matters from the Public” platform it is surprising there has not been significant rancor calling for its return to the agendas of even “virtual” meetings.

The Free Enterprise Forum calls on all localities to return “Matters from the Public not on the agenda” to their standard agendas without delay.

Our democratic republic survives and thrives when all elected officials regularly face/hear from the citizens they represent.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson, President

Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded non partisan public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and  Nelson County.  For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org

Photo Credit: Sean Tubbs, Charlottesville Tomorrow, Green Grannies via Facebook

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