Lack Of Local Voice At City Council Voting Sessions Speaks Volumes

The voting booth isn’t the only place where apathy about local government can be seen.

Through June 25, 18 people had spoken during voting sessions of the Jamestown City Council. Several of those speakers came from out of the area in March to discuss drug forfeiture. In a city of roughly 31,000 people, less than 20 have spoken to the City Council about city issues during five months of voting sessions. We can’t count the dozens of emails or phone calls a council member takes when they’re at home, but can’t we all agree that having less than one-one thousandth of the city’s population participating in a monthly opportunity to speak up is a pretty pitiful participation rate.

Compare that to the discussion on a post on the Jamestown, NY (City of Jamestown) Facebook page about ways to cool off or swim within the city limits. That post, created by a newcomer to Jamestown asking a simple question, was commented on by 51 different people more than 270 times from July 3 through July 10. That doesn’t include, by the way, council members Tony Dolce, R-Ward 2, Andy Liuzzo, R-At Large, or Jeff Lehman, city public works director, who chimed in to answer questions. Kudos to those three for participating in the discussion.

The lively discussion centered around the possible creation of a splash pad in Jamestown where children could go and cool off on hot summer days. Dunkirk recently opened a splash pad in Wright Park, prompting the questions about a splash pad and then free pools in Jamestown. It’s a pretty basic request worthy of a public discussion and, perhaps, a public campaign if there is enough interest. It’s something that is obviously of public interest that should be assigned to someone on the city payroll to investigate and make a report about. And, since Dunkirk just went through this process, there should be no need for any money — from either the city or a foundation — to pay for a study to answer the question. That problem was easy to solve.

Here’s a more difficult question –how does one govern a city where the most lively discussions happen on Facebook?

It’s easy to look at the public’s participation in City Council meetings, or any other public meeting for that matter, and think the public doesn’t care. It’s confounding to see evidence that they do care and compare that the public’s paltry interaction with the council during open session. Perhaps the public feels they won’t be listened to if they speak to the council. Perhaps the business of government is too dry to hold the public’s interest. Perhaps there are transportation issues or conflicts with work that prevent some who are interested in city business from attending council meetings.

There are some good people elected to office in Jamestown. There are good people living within the city limits who have ideas about the type of city in which they want to live. Why is it so hard for these good people to talk?


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