Call to Bring Back Open Town Council Meetings
By Timothy Bristol
I am a believer in the idea that local politics are very important. New England, and specifically Connecticut, have a proud history of citizens participating in local politics. We New Englanders like our town meetings, and the ability these meetings give us to talk to our elected town officials. It is the ability to speak directly to our town officials that gives us a sense of democracy and participation in the running of our towns.
In Stratford, our Town Council would rather we did not do that. They would prefer to run our town meeting without the input of the town residents. This is made clear in the public forum of the monthly Town Council meetings, as the public forums are a full hour and a half before the actual Town Council meeting.
During the Town Council meeting itself, there is no opportunity for public input on any of the agenda items. The meetings are all well-rehearsed beforehand and some of them last as little as 30 minutes. It is ridiculous for the Town Council to do. I have sat in on Town Council meetings that were largely empty, as a result of rules implemented by the Town Council.
The public forum should be a part of the Town Council meeting’s agenda and be held at some point during the meeting itself. Right now, the Town Council meetings are held at 8 p.m. on the second Monday of every month. The public forum is at 6:45 p.m. and to sign up you must be there between 6:30 and 6:45. Only a 15-minute window to sign up. When you sign up on time and get to give your statement you are limited to 3 minutes or what I have determined about a one-page statement.
As for the Town Council members, they do not have to show up at all. I have been to public comment several times and have seen as little as half of the Town Council members. At the public forum, the council members are not allowed to respond to the citizen’s concerns. This silence is something the Council members have done on purpose. Another way for them to not be accountable to the town. Even if they do show up to listen to residents of the town, then they don’t have to respond at all. It is mind-blowing that the Town Council considers this a good idea.
The Republicans on the town council claim that all of this was done for the sake of civility, and keeping order. Because in the times before these rules were implemented the Town Council meetings were chaotic. But, instead of restoring civility, they decided to cut out the problem; actually, having to talk to their constituents in person. It seems disingenuous of them to have a public forum where the public is ignored, even if they do show up. This is not what I would call an open dialogue so much as it is a monologue by residents while the town council members listen on half-heartedly.
Public comment should be a part of the monthly town council meeting and be on the agenda. I agree that a time limit needs to be placed on each speaker, but 3 minutes is barely enough time to get an actual point across, maybe 5 minutes. And maybe just maybe the council members can give a little feedback, and not hide behind arbitrary rules.