By Elizabeth Prata
Earlier today I wrote at length about how a properly informed citizenry can make a difference during this COVID time. Some comments and questions have arisen with specifics on how to do that. Here are some specific tips.
One way to share concerns (or also congratulations or support or thanks!) with a local governing authority is to send them a letter through their constituent services, like you can do below at the link to Gov Kemp’s office. You can call the Constituent Services office too.
Local governing bodies also have websites where the numbers are listed where you can call or text or write to the person who represents you. Most governing bodies post their agenda in advance of the meeting, so the public knows what the officials will be discussing.
Another way to contact those who govern you is to find out when the next meeting is and attend with an intention to speak your piece. Most meetings have a time allocated for public comment. It could be at the very start of the meeting (be on time!) or the very end (prepare to wait!) Sometimes there is a time limit on how long you can speak to the board, other places don’t limit the time a constituent can talk. I know it can be a little scary, with an impaneled board looking down at you from their dais, a microphone atop a solid looking podium, sometimes the meetings are recorded or videotaped… but remember they work for you. They represent you, and they can do a better job of representing your concerns or congratulations, if they know what they are. If you speak politely and concisely, it will go well for you and the Board Members will be attentive.
Kind words are like honey sweet to the soul and healthy for the body. (Proverbs 16:24)
Another way is to attend but not speak. I mentioned I was an investigative reporter for almost 6 years. I attended EVERY elected or volunteer board meeting in my town, every week. Over 500 meetings in the course of my career. There is a stark difference in how governing authorities speak when they have the place to themselves (because no public showed up) vs how they speak and act when staring at a room full of people staring back at them. Sometimes all it takes is a presence.
I say collectively of “the government” but I have also observed in over 6 years and 500 meetings, that governments locally are made up of individual citizen volunteers, who want to make a better community for all. They love the community just as much as you do, even to the extent that they themselves as local officials attend lots of meetings, do tons of homework, spend nights away from family, tolerate intrusions from constituent home phone calls, and more.
From the fruit of their mouth a person’s stomach is filled; with the harvest of their lips they are satisfied. (Proverbs 18:20)
A funny story. My father was locally involved in government committees. One of them was when he was elected to the Town Council. At some point a constituent became enraged that every night at 3 am a dog nearby barked and barked, waking that constituent. The constituent would call my father’s home at 3am demanding my father do something about it. This was well before cell phones you’re able to turn off or even answering machines. If the phone rang, it rang till the caller gave up. So my father got the problem fixed (somehow, I forget the resolution.) When it was fixed, my father called that constituent … at 3 am. When the citizen sleepily answered the phone, my father asked, “Has your problem been solved?” Anyway, don’t be that citizen. Stay polite and mindful these are real people who will better respond to courtesy than demanding rudeness.
Do your part beforehand by obtaining proper meeting times and places, preparing in writing or mentally what you want to say, and say it politely and factually. Nothing destroys credibility more than anger, rudeness, or wrong facts.
You can make a difference. It’s satisfying knowing that in addition to voting, you can become involved in partnering with your local government official, if it’s once, or all the time, as an interested and informed citizen.