Officials have suggestions for talking to city council

By Kate Reardon

Herald Writer

Have an issue you want to take up with the city council? Then go talk to the board in person.

That’s why city councils reserve a portion of their meetings — usually near the beginning — for public comments not related to agenda items.

"Participation by the audience is something we encourage," said Doug Buell, spokesman for the city of Marysville.

People visit city councils to talk about neighborhood issues or more regional issues such as storm drainage, salmon or water quality, Buell said.

If you’re not sure when your city council meets, call your city hall. Many cities in Snohomish County have Internet Web sites that may be helpful in finding names and phone numbers of city staff or elected officials.

If you’re too nervous to get up in front of a group to speak, Buell suggests contacting individuals at the city level.

"Some people when they get up and speak equate it to the butterflies they got when they stood up (in school) and gave a book report," he said.

"It would really help somebody if they called the mayor’s office in advance. That way the mayor, council and staff have a little more time to research the nature of the concern. Sometimes we’re able to take care of the problem before they get up in front of the city council."

Buell said, however, that he understands some people may have a different mission.

"Maybe some people like the element of surprise, and that’s their intent," he said.

Community members addressing city councils will often be asked to include a name and address on a sign-up sheet for the public record. Most city councils allow three to five minutes for each resident to speak. For more time, community members should try to arrange presentation time beforehand with the council or mayor.

Buell suggests community members organize their presentations by outlining concerns and anticipated outcomes.

They can even begin statements with "I believe" or "I support or I oppose," Buell said. "They should give us a reason why they’re making the point to begin with."

Lake Stevens city councilman Glenn McLoughlin said he tries to be as accessible as possible whether at council meetings or at the grocery store.

"As their elected representative, I can give them the tools or point them in the right direction," McLoughlin said. "That’s why we’re here is to make sure their concerns are being represented."

McLoughlin said he wants to hear those concerns whether it’s a pothole in front of your house or swaying trees on city right-of-way causing your uneasiness.

He said people should be open to learning more about how government operates. For example, sometimes a community member is concerned about an issue that should be addressed at the county level and not by the city council, he said.

"We get a lot of people who confuse city ordinances and state law and how some things apply to us and how some things don’t apply to us," he said.

Regardless, McLoughlin said, council members can help point people in the right direction.

"If it has to do with day-to-day issues and how it affects them in the community, they need to contact us."

You can call Herald Writer Kate Reardon at 425-339-3455

or send e-mail to reardon@heraldnet.com.

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