Every time a controversial issue comes up, one or more of the politicians involved decides to hold a public hearing. In fact, legislative bodies almost exclusively hold public meetings. Has anyone ever thought about why that is? If you said “so the public can provide input” you are likely wrong. Elections aren’t won or lost based on public meetings, and that is the only time you can truly provide input. If a politician is holding a public meeting, he or she has already been elected. And if a bureaucrat is holding a public meeting, be even more worried, because bureaucrats aren’t elected. The goal of the public hearing is to convince the public that the chosen position is the correct!
If you don’t believe me just think back to any public hearing you’ve been to. Typically there is a flashy presentation, and they will have a scripted explanation for why almost every citizen complaint was invalid or irrelevant. They do their best to predict and minimize any concerns of the public. Sometimes this even requires portraying objections as the rants of conspiracy theorists.
These meetings can drag on for weeks, normally until anyone objecting gives up. For most elected officials, this is their full time job. Concerned citizens tend to be busy! They have jobs, families, and even other hobbies. Only the most dedicated will keep coming to the same meeting week after week. Even that small group will move on after months of focusing on the same issue when something far more controversial comes up. This is well known to the group holding the meeting. They will do anything in their power, generate other controversy, as a distraction! It is quite common for a body to take two highly objectionable actions at the same time. The Seattle Police Department port cameras and wireless network may be an example of this.
Can you really win just by attending a public meeting? Absolutely not! If you think you are doing your civic duty just by attending a public meeting, don’t be fooled. That is exactly the reaction they are looking for. You’ll attend one meeting, think you’ve done your duty for the year, and then go away. If you attend a public meeting, you must not fall into the trap. Their goal is to waste your time until you go away. If you don’t have a plan to avoid these strategies, save your time and effort: don’t attend the meeting.
Some public hearings are required. Even those tend to fit this pattern. If the one you’re at isn’t required, watch out more so than normal! In future articles I will post various strategies you can use to make attending a public hearing more effective.