Be patient at public meetings

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 16, 2005

If a person has attended many public meetings or meetings of governing bodies they have probably seen ugly situations arise at least once. It is usually the work of one angry individual that causes the order of the meetings to be disturbed.

This usually happens when a topic this particular person is very passionate about comes up for discussion and they have more than their fair share to say. The problem is, sometimes when a person has argued their point more times than they care to have argued it their patience runs thin.

The result is angry outbursts that stack more problems onto the original issue that was up for discussion.

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There is a right and a wrong way to air grievances to the proper bodies, get your point across and get results. The right way is not always our first instinct, but it is normally the most effective.

Several years ago someone coined the phrase “you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.” Unfortunately, some people strongly disagree.

I have been to a lot of council, board and commission meetings in my short career and I have seen people approach these boards both ways. More often than not, the people who air grievances in a calm, rational manner have a solution on the way in about 10 minutes. Those who approach the board the other way usually end up at the next meeting with the same problem.

The number one way for a person to get their complaint to the right people is wait your turn. Ask to be placed on the agenda, pick up the agenda when you walk into the meeting and speak your peace when called upon. It’s just that simple. If you are on the agenda, the board will call your name. I have yet to see a person skipped over who was on the agenda and in attendance.

Once a person is called upon to speak their peace it is also important they watch their tone. Yelling and making a scene will get you nowhere. Many times in life there are things that frustrate us until we see red and lose control. When you see a situation like this come about take a deep breath, count to 10, gather your thoughts and continue. The board will appreciate this, as will your fellow audience members.

Once your point is made, wait for feedback. Most of the time this will consist of the people on that particular serving body going around the table to discuss a solution to your problem. No one serving on a panel wants to go out of their way to make any citizen’s life more complicated. They do want to hear your problems in a calm, rational manner so they can move toward solving them.

The main idea is not to be “that guy.” Every county and town has a person who qualifies as “that guy” that makes meetings a circus act. They usually only succeed at causing meetings to run for over an hour and a lot of frustration.