If there’s one thing that concerns me the most…

12 Sep If there’s one thing that concerns me the most…

Tonight we have our City Council Work Session at 5 PM followed by our regular Council meeting at 7PM. You can go to the City Website to check out our agenda and consider joining us.
If there is one thing that most concerns me as your Mayor, it’s the public’s seeming lack of interest in attending Council work sessions and meetings. 
I would like to think that people do not come because they trust what we are doing and believe they do not need to attend.
I’m concerned, however,  that is not the case. Given the mood of the country and the growing mistrust of government and public officials, I fear that citizens believe there is no use to come to our meetings because they do not believe they will be heard or listened to.
This is not, in my humble opinion, the case but we do not have adequate means for demonstrating this reality if people do not come to see us.
Those who attend our work sessions and regular meetings see that we do listen and we do take into account what we hear,  though we may or may not vote the way they may want us to vote.
I don’t understand why the Chamber of Commerce, representing business interests is rarely at our meetings, nor are the realtors or developers, the organized neighborhood associations and other interested parties, save the Coastal Conservation league and Historic Beaufort Foundation, who attend regularly.
We hear from them only after we make a decision, if it is not to the liking of a particular group, that they say we make decisions behind closed doors.  The fact is, we never meet behind close doors except on issues dealing with legal and personnel matters. Even then, we do not take action on our executive session discussions until after we close the executive session and are back in the public eye. More often than not executive sessions are briefings requiring no decisions.
Totally transparency is our goal. And while one can always improve, I believe we do a good job.
Our work sessions are informal: Council members sit around a conference table to discuss pending issues like food trucks, short term rentals, parking and other issues in the queue for consideration. We ask those in attendance who have a particular expertise or relevant experience to come to the table and join in on the conversation.  We do not vote or take any action during work sessions as they are are about an exchange of ideas and provide an unusual opportunity for the public to speak with us informally.  Furthermore, issues discussed at the work session are not put on the agenda for the nights regular meeting because we must give adequate public notice of the agenda items.
Work Sessions are held on the second, third and fourth Tuesdays of each month at 5 PM. The agendas for all meetings are posted on the city website.
The regular, I think of them as formal, council meetings are traditional meetings. Though, we have in the past eight years veered from tradition when there was no room for citizen input on particular issues when they were being addressed.  We start each regular council meeting with an invocation, the pledge of allegiance and then open the floor to public comment on items that are not on the agenda.  For ordinances that require public hearings, like zoning,  we have a public hearing to hear from those who believe they are or could be effected by our actions. From there we review and “accept,” after sometimes correcting, minutes from past meetings.  And then we move to new and old business.  While not required by any procedures I am aware of, after council debates an issue, but before council votes, I open the floor to public comment ensuring the public has a final chance to be heard before council makes a decision by voting. We close the meeting with the City Manager’s report and reports from Council.
Save my ongoing concern about the public’s seemingly little interest in coming to our meetings, I enjoy council meetings, especially the give and take among council members and the public.
I would, again, like to invite you to take the opportunity to join us at work sessions and/or council meetings. We could use your input and we would like you to know what we do.  Hope to see you tonight or at future meetings.