CityWatch, June 29, 2012
Vol 10 Issue 52
RETHINKING LA - Neighborhood Councils face many obstacles as they set
out to “promote more citizen participation and make government more
responsive to local needs” and the most formidable is the threat of
“Death by Meeting!”
In many ways, Neighborhood Councils have
become the enemy, taking on the bad habits that were the original seeds
of discontent when the Battle Cry of Neighborhood Councils was “Let me
Neighborhood Council agendas look like City Council agendas, far from
informative and even farther from inviting or interesting.
Council meetings look like City Council meetings, some going so far as
to require sign-in sheets (in violation of the Brown Act) and
identification of speakers (in violation of the Brown Act) because
“That’s how they do it at City Hall!”
The loudest message that
Neighborhood Councils can send to City Hall is not by email or by
Community Impact Statement or by Board Resolution, it’s with behavior.
Neighborhood Councils are committed to “promoting more citizen
participation in government,” it will start with better agendas that
actually inform the public and entice them to participating, not the
current City Council knockoff that requires a bureaucratic decoder ring
to figure out that ZA-2012-454-CE has something to do with that
restaurant everybody is excited about and that ZA-2012-2258-CUB has
something to do with the development that is causing much dismay.
journalists cover Neighborhood Council meetings, they make them sound
interesting by talking about the relevant topics that were discussed,
the passionate speakers who participated, the delicious fare from local
eateries that some councils feature.
Tiffany Kelly, now writing
for the LA Times, had a knack for storytelling that turned ordinary and
routine meetings into the local marketplace of ideas, stirring interest
in her readers and prompting them to participate in local events.
The Woodland Hills Patch is
able to convey the entire agenda of the Woodland Hills - Warner Center
Neighborhood Council in simple language that makes it sound interesting,
inviting, and even relevant.
If Neighborhood Councils are able
to entice the public to participate, the next step to avoiding “Death by
Meeting” is to make things interesting.
Even Walmart has a
Greeter, someone with a special gift for saying “Hi!” If Neighborhood
Council members hope to be treated with respect, it starts at the front
door and requires that strangers get a big welcome when they give up
their evening and venture into a Neighborhood Council meeting.
greeting must be followed up with an introduction and a process that is
inviting, not exclusive. Sign-In sheets and Speaker Cards are an
option, not a requirement. Participation is the right of the public, not
a privilege, and the process should reinforce that at every turn.
the public is in attendance, make the meeting interesting and avoid
repeating the painful housekeeping tasks that kill a meeting.
a Board debate corrections to meeting minutes is a sure-fire way to
communicate “contempt of public” to an audience that is there to partner
with the Council in making the neighborhood a better place for
Successful Neighborhood Councils know their audience
and organize the agenda accordingly. Only the sadistic can look at a
room full of people in attendance for an agenda item and hold them
through all kinds of painful “business” while the energy in the room is
depleted as a dwindling crowd waits for their topic.
Neighborhood Councils have any hope for engaging the public and “making
government more responsive to local needs,” it will start with a
well-organized agenda that allows speakers and audience to plan their
evening and know when their item will be heard.
Lots of people
who present to Neighborhood Councils could attend two and three evenings
if there were some method of actually organizing meetings so that
presenters didn’t sit for hours looking at the agenda and wondering if
they missed their moment of glory.
This isn’t about one person’s
time being more important than another person’s, it’s about operating
efficiently and with respect so that Neighborhood Councils can draw
more, not less, interaction with City Management, Neighborhood Partners,
local organizations, and the public.
The quickest way to end
“Death by Meeting” is with agendas that are written for the public,
programming that plays to the audience, and meeting time management that