Public sadly absent from this meeting
Published 5:43 pm Saturday, July 25, 2015
It’s hard to know what to make of the utter lack of interest shown by the public during a meeting that had been set up to gather public input on the qualities the new city manager should possess.
City officials had prepared for as many 120 citizens to join the open discussion at the King’s Fork Recreation Center on Thursday. They had a dozen employees from various city departments on hand to act as facilitators for the discussion. They had snacks and bottled water on hand for the guests.
The only thing they did NOT have was a single guest. In fact, the only non-city employee or official at the meeting — the first of three that have been scheduled in response to calls for allowing public input into the hiring process — was Suffolk News-Herald news editor Tracy Agnew. By the way, she didn’t share her thoughts; she was there only to listen.
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It’s odd. Just a few months after an election that hinged, in large part, on the performance of a city manager who was somewhat unpopular with the public, that same public seems to be disengaged from the process set up to ensure its voice is heard regarding the hiring of that administrator’s replacement.
Some have advanced the specious argument that it will not matter what they have to say about the process or the person they’d like to see in the position as Suffolk’s chief administrator. Whatever opinions they have on the matter, they say, will be ignored anyway, and their voices will not be heard. But the one way to be certain the public will not be heard is for the public to choose not to participate in this discussion.
Suffolk City Council, to its credit, has set up a robust system of engagement on this issue. The very fact that there are input sessions at all should be an encouragement to those citizens who have rightly complained about a past lack of transparency and accountability among the city’s elected leaders.
Public input sessions on a scale like the one nobody attended on Thursday are direct evidence of a new approach toward government. If folks cannot be bothered to take advantage of the opportunity to participate, they cannot then claim they have been cut out of the program. And if they cannot find a way to participate in the constructive dialogue, perhaps they should be careful about future complaints.
There’s still time to join the discussion. Two more input sessions are scheduled, one on Tuesday at East Suffolk Recreation Center and one on Thursday at the Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center on University Boulevard in North Suffolk. Both sessions will be from 6 to 8 p.m.
Finally, City Council is also using an online survey to poll citizens on their priorities for the next city manager. You can find that survey at www.suffolkva.us/pages/city-manager-search-community-survey.
Hiring a new city manager is one of the most important things that will happen in Suffolk government for years. Don’t let this chance to participate in the process pass you by.