FORUM: Engaging with the city council

  • Tue Oct 26th, 2010 7:24pm

By Loren Simmonds

After serving on the Lynnwood City Council for 11 years, I have observed two things.

First, citizen attendance at council work sessions and business meetings is bleak and, second, when residents do attend, many find the experience totally intimidating.

I want to encourage residents across South County to attend council work sessions and business meetings. Local government depends upon a constituency that is informed as well as involved. We must ALL share in the responsibility for government’s well-being, electeds as well as voters.

I hope to share some helpful hints to communicate with or speak to your city council. These hints will reduce anxiety and put you in the position to provide positive suggestions and legitimate concerns.

1. Citizens comments are only presented during regular business meetings. Otherwise you can phone or e-mail council members or send a letter. Check your city hall office to confirm the date, time and location of council meetings.

2. If you plan to attend, get an agenda beforehand. These are available two to three days before the meeting on cities’ websites. Copies of agendas can also be picked up in the chambers the night of the meeting.

3. See if the topic you want to address is on the agenda. If so, the council will take public comments when it gets to that item on the agenda. If you want to bring something to the council’s attention that is not on the agenda, you should speak during the audience or citizens comments portion of the agenda. When you get to the meeting, use the sign-in sheet for the list of people who want to speak.

4. When your name is called, go to the lectern to speak. Begin by stating your name and give your address. Your comments will be recorded and made a part of the official minutes of the meeting. If you are reading your comments, it is a good idea to bring about 10 copies — one for each council member, the council assistant, mayor and appropriate department head. Generally speakers are limited to three to five minutes of time. Should you speak a second time, you will again be invited to restate your name and address.

5. Realize that you may or may not get an immediate response or answer to your comments or questions. The council will generally just listen. If you want a response, ask the council president to tell you a date by which the council might respond after the item has been discussed at a work session. On occasion, the mayor may direct you to a staff member to work out a quicker solution.

6. Finally, remember that the elected officials are men and women just like you. They all live in YOUR community. Their children attend YOUR schools. Bottom line … you may disagree with a particular policy decision or idea and that is OK. However, don’t forget to treat them like you would want to be treated.

Loren Simmonds is a Lynnwood City Councilman.