citizen engagement

Nine planning commission and citizen advisory pitfalls

By Ann Macfarlane / October 1, 2021 / Comments Off on Nine planning commission and citizen advisory pitfalls
A triangular warning sign with an exclamation mark above a rectangular red sign that reads "PITFALL" highlights the potential planning commission pitfalls.

Planning commissions and citizen advisory committees are a key aspect of our society. Whether it’s a library board, a civil service commission, a parks and recreation board, a lodging tax committee, or one of many  more, these dedicated citizens provide the underpinning for our social and civic structures. Sometimes, however, their meetings encounter serious challenges.…

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Citizen attacks fellow citizen, swears – what can be done?

By Ann Macfarlane / March 5, 2021 /
A group of businessmen in a meeting room, with one person replaced by a dinosaur. Caption reads: "If anyone can get us out of our rut, it’s Ole Dinosaur here. Any questions about Robert's Rules?" Chart showing declining profits in background.

Dear Dinosaur:  During public comment at a virtual meeting, one citizen was making blasphemous comments about another citizen in attendance, was escalating in emotion, and calling him names and added a few cuss words.  Then he pulls out pictures and past memos, etc.  I’m clear about allowing the citizen his freedom of speech.  He can…

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Control disorder in your chambers

By Ann Macfarlane / October 22, 2019 / Comments Off on Control disorder in your chambers
gavel descending in stages

Local governments face a tough climate these days. Customs of courtesy have faded and people are often both passionate and rude about their issues. If you are a mayor or presiding officer of a public body, it is critical that you control disorder in your chambers. Council meetings are meetings of the council The basic…

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Danger Will Robinson! Public comment ahead!

By Ann Macfarlane / June 12, 2019 / Comments Off on Danger Will Robinson! Public comment ahead!
Title page of a document with the heading, “Danger Will Robinson: Advising City Councils on Enforcement of Council Rules of Decorum,” and a quote about the role of public comment in the city's governance.

This post offers our readers a brilliant paper by municipal attorney Brett Vinson on the dangers of public comment. Anyone involved in receiving comment from the public during meetings will find it interesting and valuable. Read about the Nazi salute in Santa Cruz, singing a Whitney Houston song to express love for a councilmember, and…

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Don’t get chummy

By Ann Macfarlane / November 28, 2018 /
Black and white sketch of a chummy person wearing a bowler hat, a long coat, vest, and tie, with one arm extended outward.

City councilmembers and nonprofit board leaders should not get chummy—too familiar—with their constituents or regular members. Here’s why.

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Choosing citizens by lottery: recipe for disaster?

By Ann Macfarlane / July 16, 2018 / Comments Off on Choosing citizens by lottery: recipe for disaster?
Liz Heath

The Washington Citizen’s Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials chooses half its 20 members by lottery.

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50 Guidelines for Public Comment in Local Government

By Ann Macfarlane / March 27, 2018 /
Image of a document titled "50 Guidelines for Public Comment," featuring an introduction about the challenges of public input. The header displays the "Jurassic Parliament" logo and an image of a government building labeled "City Hall.

Updated September 20, 2023 The public comment period is an essential part of local government meetings. This new publication offers 50 guidelines for public comment, and includes a sample public comment announcement. It is an update from our 2018 guidelines. These guidelines refer to ordinary business and work or study meetings of councils, boards and…

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Don’t get into back-and-forth exchanges during public comment

By Ann Macfarlane / March 6, 2018 /
A handheld silver and black microphone is mounted on a black microphone stand against a white background, ready to provide language tips.

When city councils, school boards or other public bodies hold their meetings, it is usual to reserve a time in the meeting for members of the public to speak to their elected officials. One common name for this is the public comment period. We strongly recommend that elected officials should not get into back-and-forth exchanges…

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