Based on discussions with city staff, and statements made by members of the City Council, they would take issue with the position that they are responsible for a decline in public participation. They note that the city adheres to opening meeting laws and residents have access to minutes and documents on line. Those with questions can contact the appropriate staff. However, is meeting the requirements of open meeting laws enough?
Meeting the letter of the open meeting laws is a rather passive approach leaving it up to residents to attend meetings and do their own research. It also requires a working understanding of such things as zoning law and city/state ordinances. But its greatest short- coming is that it's not a very effective way of informing the public at large. These shortcomings of meeting the letter of the law on open meeting laws was highlighted by an individual who responded to my e-mail inquiry on public participation in regard to the courts.
The Council has held a public hearing on the courts (albeit limited to which court complex to build), has posted the proposals on line and set up an e-mail address for public comments. As far as the city is concerned it has met its duty to the public. Some would disagree:
" When the court bids came in, I was very much looking forward to participating, including plans to read through each of the bids (no trivial task), evaluate them as best I could, and provide meaningful feedback to the decision makers in the process.
Then the city hired an outside firm to study the bids, and kept their report out of the public domain. They used the information in that report to help them narrow the field.
Shoul public involvement be viewed as a help or a hinderance to local governance?