Dave Reid

How Not to Run a Public Hearing

By - Apr 6th, 2009 11:14 am

We often hear about the lack of “transparency” or that “the process wasn’t followed,” and it is actually my belief that often enough this isn’t true.  Most of the time public meetings go fine, input is taken, and decisions are made respectfully and properly.  That said what I have recently experienced were a couple of poorly run, if not rude, unprofessional public hearings on high profile issues.  Hearings like these give the public pause, divide communities, and do a disservice to the process.

The first troubled meeting was a special meeting of the Community & Economic Development Committee which was held to take action on the M.O.R.E ordinance.  Because this meeting was held to cover such a controversial and significant ordinance it deserved a special meeting to be held, so that all sides of the issue could be given time to be heard, but Alderman Joe Davis ran the meeting with a strict adherence to time limits, cutting off people regardless if they were making a point or in the middle of wrapping up.  Of course there is only so much time in the day, but on topics that have wide ranging, long running impacts, it would be good to give people a little leeway in speaking their mind and if needed have multiple meetings prior to voting on an issues.

Understand, the value of letting the public be heard, is to encourage the broader conversation, to hear the possible costs and benefits of a proposed change, and simply to insure a fair process was conducted.  The input was limited to the point that there was little discussion on the topic, and almost no questions were asked of those in opposition, which gave the appearance that their concerns were irrelevant to the discussion.  Finally, this special meeting was held the day prior to the Common Council meeting which was to take action on this ordinance.  This meant that there was little time for the press and the public to weigh in on the issue.  This combination of limiting speech and enforcing short time frames eliminated much of the public debate on the topic, which at the time left many questions unanswered.

The second troublesome meeting was held by Milwaukee County with the intention to take public input regarding the proposed land sale of a portion of the Milwaukee County Grounds to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  A large crowd showed up to speak out against the land sale, some members were concerned with saving the Monarch Trail, some felt greenfield development wasn’t desirable, and there were some of us who were there to argue expansion in Wauwatosa isn’t the right choice for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee or our region.  The issues with this meeting started with arbitrarily short time limit for individuals to speak, and ended with an even more arbitrary meeting end time.  Around 7:45 pm Supervisor Toni Clark announced the meeting would end at 8 pm and although numerous, if not thirty people, hadn’t had a chance to speak she explained that some of us have to get home to take care of our children.  Further, she explained that concerned citizens could submit their comments in writing.  Although submitting input in writing is important and should definitely be done to insure it is part of the record, this statement attempts to invalidate the purpose of public hearings.  To insure the public is heard.

I understand that nine times out of ten a committee, board, or commission has generally made up their mind regarding an issue prior to the meeting, and taking public input might not be the most pleasant or enjoyable activity of a politicians life, but there is value to giving people the opportunity to speak.  When you truncate, cut off, or limit a person’s speech people feel the process is tainted, or that it is a “done deal.”  I do hope that in the future our public officials keep this in mind and allow the public to be heard.


8 thoughts on “How Not to Run a Public Hearing”

  1. Suzanne says:

    “Around 7:45 pm Supervisor Clark announced the meeting would end at 8 pm and although numerous, if not thirty people, hadn’t had a chance to speak she explained that some of us have to get home to take care of our children.”
    I am sure you were not held hostage. Anyone who had to leave was most likely welcome to do so and should not have cut off the majority. Written comments are fine, but the public hearings have an energy and an immediacy that submitting written comments could never replicate. Too bad. They should have let everyone have a turn who came to speak.
    “…taking public input might not be the most pleasant or enjoyable activity of a politicians life, but there is value to giving people the opportunity to speak.” Just like the medical residents that I work with, who knew going in that they would have to pull all-nighters or get paged at all hours- it’s part of the deal.

  2. Dave Reid says:

    @Suzanne yea it was very disappointing to be cut off before getting a chance to speak. Part of the point of public hearings is so that the public can hear all of the issues, which well doesn’t happen just in writing… hopefully they’ll do better in the future.

  3. Hey, I was at that disaster of a “pubic input” meeting at the Zoofari. What a STINKIN’ JOKE. And my tax dollars support these County Stupervisor slugs. Another form of welfare. None of these slugs could hack it in the private sector. I had been VERY involved in the “Save the County Grounds” movement of 10 or so years ago. The only thing back then that bought us time was the public exposure of Ament’s OTHER filthy under the table political dealings. Walker is also way bad for Milwaukee, only he’s a lot sneakier. Ament was old school clumsy. Walker is just plain slimy. How befitting that Walker has created reeking cesspools out at the County Grounds which stink of sewerage, oily runoff, and goose feces. A fitting legacy to him and Ament . Thank God for Bob Boucher to buy us time. Too bad the FMR, which he created, turned into a PR outlet for MMSD because of a few frustrated females who wanted to further their political and financial agendas.

    The “meeting” at the Zoofari was such a transparent piece of bullsh*t. It was obvious the Board Stupervisors already had their minds (?) made up and were only entertaining us concerned and taxpaying residents. This “meeting” was a clone of the “meetings” of what I attended at the Tosa City Hall when the equally arrogent and smug wealthy members of WI Lutheran College talked over us “greenies” at several meetings regarding their creation of a jock field on county land. They laughed, shook hands, traded cigars, and basically ignored and loudly talked over us local residents. I very well remember at one meeting the chairperson on the Tosa Common Council had to finally speak out loud and remind the arrogent Wi Lutheran a**holes to kindly bring their voices down so other people could talk. They laughed and somewhat complied.

    I’m a Milw cop, so am stuck here for at least another 7 years until I take an early retirement. I gotta get the hell outta Milwaukee. I can’t stand living here anymore. The gov’t of Milwaukee panders to the very rich and non workers. Us lower middle class foot the bill. I’ve relied on the Grounds for my mental health walks with my dogs since 1992. My WWII refuge late mother turned me to the Grounds since she had been gardening there since the 80’s. What more can I say. I’m being screwed by the gov’t I work for. Crap. Oh well, will walk out at the Grounds as long as I can, then will GET THE HELL OUTTA Milwaukee. My tax dollars no longer are spent paying the “representatives” who DO NOT represent me.

    Hey, want to hear from others of like mind. If I can’t walk with you on the remaining scraps of the County Grounds, at least we can support each other via email!

  4. AARGHH. Just got home working 3rd shift. Had to vent off some steam!

  5. Dave Reid says:

    @Deb Love the passion but I do hope we can keep the swearing to a minimum in the future:) Further I hope you don’t leave Milwaukee, just because we see problems and issues my hope is to help create a better Milwaukee.

  6. Hey, sorry if I was a bit charged up. I’m that way when I get home from work. I’ll be more polite with my asterisks from now on. You wouldn’t believe what goes on in this city when most working people are asleep. Over Easter weekend, an MPD officer who was dispatched to a “subject with a gun DV ” call , all the while he was responding worrying and trying to safeguard the safety of the victim, has been shot up by someone who was on Federal probation for trying to shoot another MPD officer only a couple years back. He’s got a LENGTHY criminal record. Why is he back on the street? Can you understand my frustration with local gov’t? The whole issue of the County Grounds pretty much sums up to me what is SO WRONG with local (especially County) gov’t being totally clueless as to what is going on.

    Hey, just got home from work now, so I’m going to bed to get my 3 or 4 hours of “sleep.” I’m going to try to “recharge” this afternoon at the Grounds. Spring has sprung! Nowhere is there a more beautiful place to experience the return of robins, redwing blackbirds, eastern meadowlarks, killdeer, etc., and sprouting of green grasses and wildflowers, than the County Grounds. Hopefully, the woodcocks are going to be doing their calling and aerial displays soon. Had seen a male eastern bluebird last week, but haven’t seen him since, unlike prior to 2006 when the bluebirds dug in and raised at least one brood per year at the western edge of the Grounds. No wonder. Probably went onto greener pastures. Hope to see the warblers soon….MAYBE….these haven’t been much around since 2006, either….

  7. Feel free to edit my passionate emails. My feelings towards Milwaukee and the Grounds are, well, passionate. I’ve lived here my entire 50 years. My dear late Mother turned me onto the Grounds when she started gardening there in the 80s. I’ve met so many wonderful people out there, most of whom have become my best friends. I still care a GREAT deal, but now I’m wondering. It seems as though local gov’t has lost touch with the working slobs like me. My parents came to Milwaukee from Europe in the 50s after having lost everything in WWII. England was also in shambles, where they tried to recover after the War, so they came to Milwaukee. They instilled in me a strong will ito fight what I believe in. Thanks for letting me vent. I hope to help you and anyone who wants to preserve the Grounds. Let me know of any future meetings. I’ll gladly curtail sleep, just like I did during Bob Boucher’s “Save the County Grounds” drive. Hey, that bought us time. Maybe we can still buy time for awhile.

  8. Dave Reid says:

    @Deb I’d hate to edit anyone’s comments, and I’m glad to know there are people willing to work on this effort.

    And I agree Milwaukee County government is messed up. To me I think Walker is holding us back especially in regards to the Park East, mass transit and our parks. But I also think Coggs, Clark, and Holloway to name a few are doing us any favors either. I look to a couple of the younger Supervisors, Larson and Lipscomb and hope to see more like them in the future. That said I still don’t think I’ve got their votes on the County Ground issue yet either!

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