Frank Dufay, a Spirit of Portland Awards City Employee of the Year winner, posts excellent comments in response to my post yesterday on a proposed label system for Portland City Council agenda items. I heartily agree with his analysis, having long been an advocate of citizens not leaving their input until the last hearing. After my seven years on the Planning Commission, I wrote and posted a long list of Testimony Tips, based on my experience on both sides of the microphone at hearings. I'm happy to give a presentation on it to any group interested - just e-mail me. The main point is, hardly any of us are sufficiently awe-inspiring as orators that three minutes of testimony at the microphone is going to make a big difference - citizens must work harder during the process, to be heard.
That said, there are still problems with the current process at City Council. When Charlie Hales appointed me to the Planning Commission, he said he expected proposals arriving at Council to be 90% finished, leaving Council to make the policy calls on 10% of the most controversial issues. It seems to me that more often these days, items on the agenda are 99% or even 100% decided. I hope I'm wrong on that. If it's true, I would like to know up front, so I don't waste my time testifying at the hearing and/or lobbying over the previous weeks.
The second issue is my mantra of citizen involvement and the appropriate role of elected officials, spoken at Metro by the late great Judy Wyers, then Presiding Officer. She said,
There is no point in holding a public hearing, if the public can't make a difference by testifying.
It's true and necessary that decision-makers should arrive at a hearing having read the briefing materials and written testimony to date (I say "should" because it is sometimes woefully obvious that some haven't). In doing so during my Planning Commission service, I would form a preliminary opinion/position. But by making a conscious effort to keep an open mind, and to look for something significant in every individual testimony, I found there was almost always a way to improve the proposal on the table, and/or a significant flaw that nobody had pointed out before. I would like to believe City Council members are open for input, even at the hearing in Council chambers. If they aren't, let them adopt my proposal for posting labels on agenda items, so we're all clear on what is really happening.