Interaction with local government isn’t a priority for many citizens, often with good reason.
Most events, town hall meetings, and other local programs are usually not well-attended, even when well-publicized. That lack of citizen participation is likely not due to lack of interest. Rather, people are just too busy to attend what seems like a myriad of meetings that often don’t affect them, at least not directly.
In actuality, local government can have a much more immediate effect on people’s lives than the latest happenings on Capitol Hill. The new Wal-Mart being placed on a local wildlife reserve is apparent and immediate, and citizens feel like they have a say and some sense of power over that kind of issue when it comes up in their community.
To discuss how often people participate in town halls, and what issues are important to them, GovLoop expert Emily Landsman wanted to know how members get involved in their local government:
“Have you ever gone to a council meeting, participated in a volunteer day, tried to get a law changed, or argued about a zoning permit? Have you ever run for office? What are some easy forms of participation? What was your last non-tax related interaction with your city, county, or town government?”
Respondents reported avid participation, suggesting that there are a lot of issues that concern them and that they enjoy being tied closely with the community. Others vouched for its value because they work for local government.
Dorothy Duran, Office Assistant II for the Department of Child Support, Sacremento County, talked about her experience:
“Currently I work for Department of Child Support and I have been there for the last seven years, so I have seen the service that my agency provides to people receiving child support as well as for the people having to pay child support.”
Joe Flood, a freelance Digital Media Producer, noted how he appreciates that fact that his local government uses social media to increase public engagement:
“The DC Department of Transportation does a good job at responding to citizen requests via Twitter. They reply right away if you let them know about potholes, blocked bike lanes, et cetera. It’s pretty cool to get a personal response from local government.”
But what types of issues create buzz and build a movement? Stacy Carpenter, a Senior Executive for Blue Lion Training, said:
“Proposed infrastructure such as rail trails through residential areas, affordable housing projects and the development of previously undeveloped areas bring out a lot of interaction with the government from the community. Services closings such as hospitals, post offices and schools bring residents out as well.”
Jana Opperman, an Environmental Specialist for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, cited another specific example:
“I recently attended two hearings to save the county hospital which the county government is auctioning off. There seems to be no one supporting the freeholders sale – there was no who attended the hearings nor wrote letter to the editor saying anything positive in backing up the freeholders, and it seems the freeholders will still go through with the sale, what a disaster that will be.”
There are m any cases where the local government does what it can to get people involved, as Amy Hoffmann, a Corporate Guest Services Associate for Hamilton County Park District, pointed out:
“Our city also hosts regular forums asking for community input. I attend these when I have a strong feeling one way or another (the last one was on what to do about the overpopulation of deer infiltrating our city). These are very easy ways to get involved. Attend events such as the parades, holiday open houses, and regular city council meetings.”
About the author: Corey McCarren is a GovLoop Graduate Fellow and a graduate of the State University of New York, College at Oneonta, having majored in Political Science and Communication Studies.