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Online Community Lesson
How many of us know that Montebello was an “All American City”, a designation awarded during the bicentennial of 1976?
Generally, we a quiet, moderate, and modest community. The question in this lesson is whether, given the chance to become a national leader, we would seize the day.
What chance? We can do something which, perhaps, no city council has done in the United States to increase community participation in civic matters.
First, the background. We know that, months ago, our city council limited “orals”, that is, public speaking at council meetings, to three minutes per speaker. One reason was that orals were taking so much time that council business could not be finished. (This phenomenon of having so much to talk about and not enough time is a manifestation of “LOCO”, an essay series about which is at www.mymontebello.com.) There was a protest by some Montebelloans that this violated their right to free speech.
So, what can we do? There are three things:
(1) those residents who have more to say than there is time during orals may bring a one-page writeup and have the city clerk make enough copies for the city council and everyone in the audience; an alternative is that the city contract with a nonprofit in Montebello to post writeups at a Web site in advance of a council meeting, with a resident able to refer the council and audience to the Web site for more information;
(2) council members already come into the audience and chat with people before a council meeting; the hour between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. preceding a council meeting can become the “town hall hour”, when residents may present their orals at length, governed by rules which they, the residents, have set; if this conflicts with the council members’ executive meeting, that meeting can be moved to 5:30 p.m., giving the council members a chance to participate in the “town hall hour”;
(3) the council chamber can be wired for wireless Internet, enabling the audience to access information, such as that posted at the Web site of (1) above, pertaining to orals; wireless Internet can even make it possible for the audience to communicate with council members and each other via instant messaging or e-mail.
How many of us would not be proud to hear Montebello mentioned on “The News Hour with Jim Lehrer” or “World News Tonight with Charles Gibson”, for national leadership in improving participatory democracy?
If you answer the multiple-choice questions below and e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Lesson answers” in the subject field, you will be credited toward a “certificate of recognition in community affairs” to be awarded in 2007 by a local nonprofit organization.
1. It is becoming harder for a city council to conduct business because
(a) there is more to talk about and not enough time.
(b) the complexity and number of laws slow decision-making.
(c) it is difficult for five council members to make informed decisions on all the agenda items and all the issues brought up by residents.
2. Which innovation by the Montebello city council would serve residents and council members best?
(a) photocopying and passing out a writeup by residents talking during orals.
(b) having a “town hall hour” preceding a council meeting.
(c) making it possible for the audience at a council meeting to communicate via wireless Internet.
(d) all of the above.
March 22, 2007
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