Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. He also is an owner and contributor to FlightMonkeys.com.
There is nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, that’s as consistently dull and lifeless as a public meeting when only a handful of people show up. That’s the problem with most public meetings, frankly. Nobody shows up. Oh, a selection of the same two dozen people stop in. These are often well intentioned, well connected, and long time participants who work as part of a regular rotation. When it’s their turn to go, they go. But it’s the rare meeting when large numbers of people show up. It’s even more rare when large numbers of well-informed, well-spoken, truly civic-minded folks make it to the venue.
That’s too bad, too, because although the meeting may be dull, and the agenda may have all the snap and excitement of yesterday’s popsicle melting into a sun-warmed parking lot, the information available at those meetings is critical to the advancement of a cause – or the cessation of another. They aren’t sexy, they usually aren’t exciting, and even the participants often wish they could be somewhere else. But public meetings matter.
When was the last time you showed up to share your two cents?
Believe it or not public meetings are often a requirement of government. When planning to make changes that affect zoning, public use structures or amenities, funding, or even just plain old long term planning – public meetings have to be held. It’s the law.
As you can imagine, government workers put every bit as much effort into getting the word out that you would put into a task that you were required to perform by statute – regardless of your affection or interest in the outcome of the issue. In other words, government sucks at seeking out real public involvement. They don’t miss the mark on this point because they’re evil, or malicious, or have secret plans to sneak something by the public at-large. Nope, they suck at it because — for the most part – they just don’t care.
And why should they? Seriously. Consider the problem from their perspective.
They’re not tasked with gathering a crowd of interested people. If that was the goal, that’s what they’d do. No, they’re charged with the task of putting the notice on a bulletin board – so they do. They’re told to run an ad in the paper – so they do that too. They might even have a new city policy that requires them to put the notice up on the city’s website, a Facebook page, and maybe even Tweet a few characters about it. So they do all of that. But they’re doing what they’re required to do, not what needs to be done. And they sure aren’t looking at ways to do the job better. Remember, they don’t want to be doing this in the first place – why try to improve on stagnation and the resignation of your professional pride?
Government isn’t bad. It’s just very rule oriented. And the rules only make sense from a particular perspective. The goal of a government rule is very different than your own goals might be. For instance, you’ll notice there is no FAR that requires you to actually take off, go somewhere, and enjoy yourself in the process – even though that’s why most of us got into flying in the first place. That’s just not the way rules work.
Government is not on your wavelength. Government isn’t good, or bad. It’s just indifferent much of the time. They don’t understand you and they’re not trying to understand you. You need to be aware of that. They’re following the rules that they themselves wrote, or that their predecessors wrote, or that a state agency further up the ladder wrote. The one thing they’re not trying to do is to get you into the room to hear how they intend to spend your money, change your town, or plan for your future. That’s a different task altogether, and there’s no rule that says that have to actually get people into the room.
Now I realize this all sounds pessimistic. But it’s not. It’s an opportunity disguised as a burden. When I ran for office I was as persona non grata at my city hall as a person could be. After all, I wrote a newspaper column for 10 years that was often critical of government at all levels. But a funny thing happened when I ran for office – my city’s government began to change a bit. And when I won my seat on the city commission, the staff settled in for four years of putting up with a big-mouth with a pea-brain. Except I’m not a big-mouth with a pea-brain. I just look at things a bit differently than they had. In time, we’ve come to have an excellent working relationship.
Things are getting better in my town. At least that’s the case from my perspective, and from the perspective of a whole lot of folks who think like I do.
So don’t get all gloomy and disgusted when you realize government isn’t listening to you and they aren’t reacting to the pithy, insightful comments you’re offering over the dinner table to your family and friends. It’s not that they aren’t paying attention, it’s just that they can’t hear you. So check the paper, and the city’s website, and their Facebook page, and go to a public meeting. Stand up and be heard when you feel the need. You just might be surprised how well received your perspective is.
You can reach Jamie at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com