I decided to attend a city council meeting in Burnsville, my hometown of 18 years. The meeting took place at the Burnsville City with a start time of 6:30 and an end time around 7. There were four council members and the mayor involved, who essentially make up the body of the Burnsville Community. The meeting itself was very informative and surprisingly interesting. The meeting began with the pledge of allegiance, followed by announcements and proclamations, then they have some time open for citizen comments/questions/concerns, then they made any additions to the final agenda, followed by the consent agenda, and finished with the regular agenda. The consent agenda includes topics that are non-controversial that need little or no deliberation. The regular agenda consists of items/topics that require individual consideration by the council. After attending this meeting I decided to focus my review on the topic of “Freedom of Speech.”
There were multiple people who contributed to speaking at this city council. The 5 main city council members (and the mayor) basically acted as the narrators and monitored the council meeting. The mayor would begin by choosing a topic to discuss and then one of the other city council members would open up with a brief overview of the subject. Following this they would ask the citizens if there were any questions, comments, or concerns regarding this topic. Depending on the topic, people would either sit there in silence, or raise there hand and express their comment out loud. Technically, there are constraints for the speakers because you can’t just blurt out or comment, but generally speaking that is just common courtesy and there were no problems with people following that. Anybody who was in attendance was allowed to speak, given that they raised there hands and waited for them to ask if there were any questions or concerns. Sometimes, if a citizen would say something that would cause a negative reaction throughout the room, the mayor would ask them to sit down and the council members would respond to their question appropriately. The rules for the format of the meeting were described earlier in the intro, but there were no “strict” guidelines regarding the length of what people could say. Again, the room is filled with mostly adults and people understand how these meetings operate, so there wasn’t anybody who would start talking for long periods of time.
A few times throughout the meeting I did notice that a few citizens would raise their hand while the city council member was still speaking, regardless of if they were finished or not. The mayor would politely chime in and ask for the citizen to lower their hand and wait until they asked the audience for their comments. A few other times, members would blurt out comments like “that’s outrageous!” or “I agree!” in which the mayor would again, politely ask the audience to be respectful of the person speaking and let them finish. Although there were people who would try to interrupt the city council members who were speaking, more people would actually interrupt when a citizen was talking. I felt that the citizens (for the most part) respected the council members, but you could tell that some of the citizens didn’t respect the other citizens, especially if they make a comment that the citizens don’t agree with. Whenever anybody attempted or actually violated the group norms/speaker rules, the mayor would always chime in very politely and in a very monotone voice saying “please respect the speaker” or “wait until we ask for questions or concerns” so that the speaker themselves could finish up whatever they were saying.
There were no groups that were excluded from the meeting. As far as any changes that could be made to distribute the power more equally, I think there are a few different things you could do. First, I’m not sure if they provide the citizens with the agenda for the night prior to the actual meeting, but I think that’d be very beneficial if the citizens knew what topics were going to be discussed. If they knew the topics prior to the meeting, they could submit their views or arguments online and they could go through all of them at the END of the meeting. I felt that the flow of the meeting was disrupted a few times due to unnecessary comments from people that got the meeting off topic. I think finding a way to prevent people from saying irrational comments or comments that caused a negative reaction from the audience should be avoided at all cost, but I’m not sure how you would implement that.
After attending this meeting it was cool to see how many citizens actually want to be apart/involved in their community. It was also cool to see how freedom of speech came in to play and (for the most part) how well it worked. It’s now more evident than ever to me as to why freedom of speech is so important, because like anything else people have strong opinions about topics that can create potential conflicts throughout the community. Without freedom of speech, I feel that there would be a large amount of citizens that would be unhappy with how their community was operating, especially if they didn’t have any voice in the decisions. I also think that freedom of speech helps people feel like they are more involved then they actually are, whether that is a good or a bad thing. When you are able to have a voice in the decisions made in your community, you are going to feel a sense of involvement, which is never a bad thing. Freedom of speech helps people in a community come to middle ground on certain topics, which obviously is beneficial because if you lived in a community where the decisions made were never trying to make just a select group of citizens happy, you will be left with a large number of citizens who are unhappy. Overall, I think freedom of speech really helps in building strong and positive environments in the communities that they live in.