With raised voice the concerned citizen attacked the whole idea of the meeting. Animatedly he asked “why even have this meeting if you’ve already decided!” That was in the first 5 minutes of the community meeting we had last night about groundwater protection in the area.
At the end of the meeting he thanked the citizen advisory committee for taking a logical approach and was supportive of most of the recommendations.
The only disappointment I had was that there were only 11 community members that showed up for the meeting (may be due to sign placement).
What transpired from the initial outburst to the hand shake at the end?
My answer is that the committee knows a lot and we’ve put together a program that describes the situation in an understandable way that addresses the issues individual’s have.
Here’s what happened:
First my response to the initial question was that we are still formulating the recommendations and so input is appreciated. I also said that while these recommendations are being created for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, the scope of the recommendations requires many government agencies to be involved. But more importantly these recommendations require community support and are really the community’s recommendations.
I find it interesting how many people that are cynical of government still want to turn over recommendations to a government agency and then complain about what the agency does or doesn’t do. In a democracy the community must lead and the government agencies are there to implement what the community needs and wants.
We started the program with each committee member stating some piece of information that led them to their moment of oh! and then asked where the audience stands on the groundwater contamination issue. The tally (not everybody participated) was: 2 – What, 1 emphatic NO, 1 Oh and 1 Whoa. Clearly people were reluctant to get involved with the meeting.
We then walked through the presentation that describes what the committees has been doing for 2.5 years, the four focus areas of the issue, solution scenarios (including doing nothing) and finally our recommendations.
The ‘in your face’ participant continue to ask attacking questions for quite a while (I can’t recall how long). Many of his questions were about our recommendations. I resisted the temptation to speak about the recommendations and said we’d get to that question when we talk about the recommendations. I think this was key to getting the meeting result we did. The presentation provides background and describes our thought processes that support the recommendations. Without that preface we’d have been jumping from recommendation to recommendations. The story is essential!
I think it was when we talked about the do nothing scenario that the No started to waiver. Presenting the scenarios, and especially the ones that we didn’t choose helped communicate the breadth of our thinking and that we considered all aspects.
We then presented 9 recommendations and asked who supports and is against each recommendations. There were no recommendations where somebody said they were against it. We did have a number of people that were unsure about supporting a recommendation. 6 recommendations were supported by more than 9 people present (out of 11).
The meeting turned out the way it did because:
- we have fact based information
- all the committee members know a lot about the issue
- we have a understandable story to tell that incorprates the diverse interests of community members
- we maintained the agenda (we took questions throughout – but questions that would be answered later were deferred until they were in the context of the story)
- we are respectful of dissent
At the end of the meeting I asked where people were on the curve now and the response was: 0 – what, 0 No, 2 Oh, 8 whoa and 1 let’s go.
I’m feeling we are close to the end of this committee’s work. 🙂