The fishbowl: AKA public meetings
I love my job. I really, really do. I’m usually in the know and I get paid to be nosy when something exciting’s happening around town.
The not so fun (but super important) part of my job consists of attending public meetings – lots of ’em.
I attend the Mount Shasta City Council meetings every two weeks. I go to Dunsmuir City Council meetings monthly. I go to MSUSD meetings on the second Tuesday of each month and Siskiyou Union High School District board meetings on the second Wednesday. (Okay... I TRY to go to all these meetings. I do miss them occasionally due to schedule conflicts and for my own sanity.)
Though it’s not a regular assignment, I sometimes cover meetings for the Mount Shasta Fire Protection District, Weed City Council, College of the Siskiyous, and both the Dunsmuir high school and elementary school, as well as the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors.
I’m not an expert at all the workings of a public meeting, but I know the ropes.
At last night’s emotional meeting of the Mount Shasta Union School District board, during which trustees were discussing the consolidation of Mount Shasta Elementary and Sisson, some became noticeably frustrated with the procedures of the board. They felt they were being ignored and their questions left unanswered.
After public comment is over, boards and councils begin their own discussion amongst themselves and staff, and in most cases, the public is not allowed to make further comments or ask questions (at least not questions they expect to be answered right then).
In some cases, I’m dying to have a question answered about what a board is approving or turning down. But a member of the public usually has to wait.
While it can be frustrating, I go to enough board meetings to understand if there weren’t guidelines like this, nothing would ever get done. If people didn’t have a three minute limit on speaking time, meetings could go on FOREVER.
Like trustee Paul Schwartz explained at last night’s meeting, you can think of it this way: board meetings aren’t public meetings, they’re meetings conducted in public. This makes the actions of the board as transparent as possible.
At the SUHSD, their meeting style has been likened to “a fishbowl.” Board members are going about their business in a fish bowl, and observers can watch from behind the glass.
So while it seems clinical (and annoying at times) these meeting rules are standard for boards subject to the Brown Act.
So if you want to make sure the board or council hears what you have to say, say it in public comment and try your best to keep it under the time limit. Because if you go over, I’m not sure they’re listening... instead, they’re wondering how long you’ll go on.
Another suggestion: talk to board members or councilors before the meeting. Give them your input then. Most of the councilors, trustees and board members I’ve met are friendly and open to discussion. They are publicly elected officials, and their job is to listen to your input. And sometimes, when I’m sure I know how a councilor or board member will vote, they surprise me and go the complete opposite direction.
Just my two cents about board procedures and policies, They’re not always fun, and sometimes I’d rather be anywhere than sitting on an uncomfortable folding chair in city council chambers that smell like potatoes... but someone’s gotta do it, right?