Late last year, when it seemed all of Oregon was waiting with bated breath to find out when a certain burger chain would open in Keizer, the city council did an unusual thing – it moved a minor signage approval item for the restaurant to the top of the agenda.
The reason? Two television stations were in town to record the proceedings and they wanted to make the late evening deadlines.
No one at the paper considers our city councilors to be particularly vain individuals, and the television cameras are a rare presence at council meetings. However, consider the same meeting room three weeks ago.
About two dozen residents turned out to hear and participate in the council debate regarding the future of Keizer Little League Park. Those residents had to sit through: a discussion of closed captioning on Keizer’s public access television channel, a presentation by Marion County Public Health representatives, a committee report, approval of a bidding exemption; a waiver of fees for use of the Keizer Community Center; and approval of additional dates for the Keizer Rotary Amphitheatre performance season.
An hour and 10 minutes later, discussion of the park matters finally commenced. By then, the crowd hoping to hear the council debate the proposals had thinned to about a dozen dedicated souls. At least one person who had signed up to talk on the matter had already given up and left.
The scene that played out during discussions of the park, in which Keizer residents turn out hoping to take part in city conversations and bail when the council retains a rigid adherence to numerical order on the agenda, occurs much more frequently than Portland TV crews deigning to grace us with their presence. It needs to stop.
The same city councilors who made the crowd wait for the biggest item of the night are the same ones who decry a lack of involvement in city issues. They ask all the time what might be done to better capture the pulse of the city. Then, when residents are there to participate, they are subjected to a seemingly endless wait.
Regular attendance at city council meetings is meager at best, but councilors typically know well ahead of time which topics might attract a crowd. There is no reason they can’t re-arrange the schedule. All it takes is agreement of the sitting councilors to do so.
There is likely not any ill will at play, but the continual sidelining of the resident participation is not a good look. It’s the kind of thing that feeds into stereotypical views of government and causes people to throw up their hands in frustration.
Councilors are willing to rearrange the agenda when TV time is at stake, the people who actually live in the city deserve no less when they want to be heard.