On April 9th, 2013 I attended the Town of Aurora council meeting for the first time. Prior to attending the meeting in person I have been watching all the council meetings online. While making notes for our Town Hill report many times I struggled to follow what Councillors were referring to.
Community engagement in politics is important. No report will ever tell us what the community actually thinks, only the people within community will. Not making our council meetings audience friendly discourages participation and involvement in politics. It is the responsibility of the community leaders to share, encourage, interact, act positively, communicate, and to attract future potential leaders. We know that politics can be crude sometimes, but it is the politics that most of the time defines what happens in our community, and what happens with our community’s tax dollars.
Attending the council meeting live was a totally different experience for me that evening. Meeting people in person, a hand shake, eye to eye contact was a very rewarding experience. During the meeting the agenda visuals were everywhere on the screen to clearly follow what Councillors were referring to.
I must conclude then that my issue is with the raw unedited online council meeting videos. I clearly recall from watching last year that the council meeting online videos did have name sub-titles but that feature is long gone.
Showing our community the boredom of council meetings only sends viewers away. Broadcasting unedited raw video of council meetings that are hard to follow unless one has an agenda in front of them, further discourages public participation in politics.
The town leaders need to think differently. Cost cutting on communication tools and broadcasting only raw council meeting videos to save a buck or two is not engaging – it’s disengaging. Since technology allows us to watch meetings in the comfort of our home at a time of convenience, it is unlikely that attendance will further increase. Therefore some focus should be placed on ways to further encourage a larger audience to watch council meetings online.
Here is an example of how one of the Councillors spoke on a called item. I didn’t have an agenda in front of me so I wasn’t able to figure out what item the Councillor was referring to. Each Councillor spoke and after a 25 minute debate and deliberation I was still not able to clearly decipher what the first Councillor was referring to.
“My comments specifically have to do with the alternative developments standards and change in parking standards for this application. Changing these standards will benefit the development but I don’t think it will benefit the future community that is going to be residing here. I think it will make a less livable area if we change these two standards. I believe we have a concrete example of what this area could look like if we change the standards and that is the area that is just north of the town hall. Here streets are congested with vehicles. It is very hard to find an area to park, it’s very frustrating and some people may even say it’s unsafe. I think that this is an unacceptable reality to impose upon a new community where the people aren’t even living there to be able to voice any objections to these standards and so I am doing that on their behalf.” Town of Aurora Council Meeting, March 26, 2013.
The Councillor’s passion and concerns come through clearly and are commendable, but unfortunately without including some key facts and details related to the subject item, the casual home viewer watching online has challenges following. What is ‘this application’; what are we changing in ‘these standards’; why will ‘it’ be ‘less livable’; how exactly is the ‘concrete example’ related; where exactly are the ‘streets’ that are ‘congested with vehicles’; who are the ‘some people’ that have said ‘it’s unsafe’?
There are two obvious solutions to solve this problem. One would be to edit the video, to flash the speaker’s name, flash headlines, and flash an agenda item prior to each item being discussed. Definitely the editorial will cost money, but in the long run the viewer friendly video will benefit our community in the future – it’s an investment worth pursuing. Secondly, Councillors could speak more clearly on the topic and that is a no cost solution.
It is not a surprise that lengthy and sometimes boring meetings can lead to lack of mental participation by the attendees. That can effortlessly lead to use of smart phones during meetings to text, catch-up on email, or search the Internet. To some degree those actions are understandable since council meetings are an addition to everyone’s already long working day. Clearly 3-4 hours in a meeting can be very tiring and smart phones definitely help keep attendees awake.
Perhaps a solution would be to find a way to limit meetings to 2 hours. Perhaps short intermission breaks every hour and perhaps some upbeat music could help to clear minds. Perhaps more discipline to keep focus is required.
Please remember around that table important decisions are made for the community of the Town of Aurora.
Anna Lozyk Romeo, Editor’s Notes