We all know that granting the public "three minutes at the microphone" is a way for us to "manage" council, board, and commission meetings and public hearings. Right? After all, we need to allow everyone an opportunity to speak and regulating time may be the only way to get everyone's point of view and still allow for the "business" of the meeting to be completed at a reasonable hour.
While this expression may mean this to a local government manager or council member, chances are, it means something totally different to the individual who took time from his/her day to attend your meeting. To some, it is a way for the government to "control" them, for others who believe you have made up your mind already about the issue at hand, these can be fighting words.
Most of the laws that govern public participation in the United States are over thirty years old. They do not match the expectations and capacities of citizens today, they pre-date the Internet, and they do not reflect the lessons learned in the last two decades about how citizens and governments can work together. Increasingly, public officials and staff are wondering whether the best practices in participation are in fact supported – or even allowed – by the law.
ICMA and its Center for Management Strategies have been involved in a group comprised of public participation experts and organizations to produce some new tools, including a model local ordinance and model amendment to state legislation, in order to help create a more supportive, productive, and equitable environment for public participation. This publication is called Making Public Participation Legal and is available via this link or on the Center for Management Strategies Group site on the Knowledge Network . Local governments that are interested in making their online and face-to-face engagment experiences more productive and positive should consider checking out this publication.
The working group that produced Making Public Participation Legal was coordinated by the Deliberative Democracy Consortium (DDC). and is a publication of the National Civic League, with support from the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation. The Working Group also includes representatives of the American Bar Association, International Municipal Lawyers Association, National League of Cities, Policy Consensus Initiative, International Association for Public Participation, and International City/County Management Association, as well as leading practitioners and scholars of public participation.
Communities that want to move forward with new public engagement processes and policies can also turn to an array of new resources being offered through ICMA’s Center for Management Strategies. CMS has assembled a team of leading engagement practitioners, research specialists, and subject matter experts who can help local governments develop and implement effective civic engagement programs.
Check out all these resources before you next say, "you are limited to three minutes at the microphone!"