Editorial: Public officials work for the public, should listen to public comment
Let’s put aside the fact that this was a packed Parks & Recreation Commission meeting that lasted almost three hours.
Let’s also put aside that the meeting had both a discussion of what has become a controversial beach renovation as well a discussion by members about feedback they have received.
Then we can also put aside that after a brief discussion of this project, the chairman of the Parks & Rec Commission told members and the audience that the feedback on the project she had received was evenly balanced between positive and negative.
Let’s also put aside when the chairman heard pushback from the audience on that feedback she shut the audience down by saying they had no idea what she’d received.
We can also not take into consideration that the agenda said public comment at the end of the meeting, but the commission seemed content to not acknowledge that until someone asked about it — only to be told there was no time for it after people waited to talk for three hours.
In the end, the Freedom of Information Commission says that not including public comment isn’t a violation of FOIA, nor is skipping it if it is on the agenda.
However, even if it isn’t a violation, and even if it isn’t a controversial topic, and even if the room isn’t packed with people, is it a good look to skip public comment if it is on the agenda?
No, it isn’t. It isn’t fair and isn’t the way elected or appointed public officials should handle the people’s business.
Because in the end, no matter what they are talking about at that meeting, that’s whose business it is — the residents and taxpayers of Darien. The same who will be funding a $2.5 million project — yet are denied the ability to weigh in on it publicly after waiting three hours to do so.
Do meetings run out of time? Sure they do. But a better way to handle it is to either have public comment in the beginning or make a public adjustment to the agenda that there is no time for public comment. It isn’t ideal, but there’s got to be a better way than last week’s Parks & Rec Commission.
No one enjoys listening to extensive complaints and anger at a meeting any more than anyone enjoys processing 14 to 15 letters a week echoing that anger to be published in this newspaper. But we have to do it — and why?
Because that’s part of the job.
Public officials need to remember they report to the public.