More input needed

Published 10:18 pm Wednesday, April 15, 2009

There were only a few people in attendance at the Suffolk Police Department’s most recent strategic planning public workshop, but they had an emphatic message as the department sought out to set goals and priorities for the next year or so. Sounds like a successful meeting, right?

What happens if you hold an informational meeting on the budget and nobody attends? In the case of Suffolk Budget Officer Anne Seward, you wait for a while — PowerPoint presentation at the ready — chat with a city councilman and city employees who are on hand to help answer the questions that it turns out nobody has, and then you hold an impromptu press conference for the reporters who turned up to cover the non-event.

Looking across the audience area of council chambers on Monday night, Seward found no one in the room who wasn’t either on the city’s payroll or a member of the media. “In government, that’s an indication that you’re doing right,” she quipped.

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It’s understandable why Seward’s sentiments and perhaps even the police department could perceive people not flocking to their meetings is an indication that everything must be in good order. However, what it really shows is that in a city of more than 80,000 people, no one, or very few, people seem to care enough to attend public meetings and make sure their voices are heard.

Either people are able to get their ideas across through back channels or the residents don’t believe their concerns or opinions matter. Neither means of communication offers hope of fixing Suffolk’s problems. Whether it’s the police department or the city budget, more people than those in attendance have logical contributions and should learn to voice them. If not for themselves, then for others who are too shy for what they might consider a confrontation. Our government and its departments can only thrive by receiving ample, sound feedback on a consistent basis. So far this year, Suffolk is lacking the input from the community to make sure the elected and appointed officials are acting in their best interests.