Newspaper and City Hall failing citizens

Lack of citizen input is symptomatic


The Leader missed an important opportunity recently. A front page article regarding the lack of citizen engagement in city affairs did not include the perspective of even one citizen [Leader, April 20]. Instead, there was only conjecture from some city officials. Perhaps by asking a citizen or two why, there may have been greater public benefit. There could even have been some exploration of possible solutions for re-engaging the citizens.

My perspective after 30 years of volunteering in the city is that we citizens can gum up the process of governing. However, good government outcomes necessarily require the public’s business be conducted in open sessions inclusive of the public. To make the process more efficient, the city closed some traditional paths for citizen involvement by eliminating most its subcommittees. That diminished a critical connection between city council and citizens. The council, which is paid less than minimum wage, can now spend less time in meetings with the people they represent.

Citizens can still write to the council, but those letters get no response or acknowledgement. (What’s in those letters, Leader?)

In 2017, after advisory board complaints about their loss of connection with the council, the city manager suggested a Committee on Committees be formed to explore the issue. Following a year of deliberation, the end product is a slightly better advisory board connection to city council, but not for citizens.

Items for council action are now chosen from an issues list called the “Inbox.” (What is currently in that box, Leader?)  Staff then, with little opportunity for citizen input, prepare “draft” policy and plans which are eventually brought into the open at a council meeting. Citizens may then offer their three minutes of comment in hopes that city council will react. Alas, with the policy or plan having arrived at its finale, our comments are essentially too late to alter the product.

Between the lack of investigative reporting and the city’s lack of an open process, which clearly violates the spirit of having an open government, it goes far to explain why the public is disengaged.

There are significant issues needing attention: city deficit budgets, climate change, traffic, PDA events, parking, and housing, all where engaged citizens could help create better outcomes. But for that to happen, city council must reconnect to citizens directly in an open and welcoming process. And if they need a raise for their additional time commitment, so be it.

Scott Walker
Port Townsend


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Tom Camfield

Ah. But which "citizen or two" should arbitrarily be chosen to comment for a news story? A couple from among those who have shown up at the scene with axes to grind? Someone with a continuing grudge? Whoever yells the loudest? During my own 10 years on the council, we were paid $10 per meeting. We weren't in it for the money. We also accomplished a lot back through the 1970s—city zoning, new sewer system, building code, contracted garbage service, creation of Pope Park, that sort of thing.

Thursday, May 9