Bath Board of Supervisors Chairman calls first town hall meeting a success
By Bruce McWilliams, Chairman, Bath County Board of Supervisors
After our first town hall meeting, I have been particularly proud of this Board for its willingness to try new ways in which to engage with our constituents. Some of us have regular business hours, or monthly meetings; we even experimented with a second meeting a month to discuss the Counties business. All of us are out and about and open to meeting with members of the community wherever we are. This all fosters the give and take, and the feedback we need to effectively govern and make decisions on behalf of the voters of this community.
We also recognize as a Board that while the monthly Board meeting is required for us to conduct business on behalf of the County, it is not the appropriate forum for dialogue, questions and answers, or clarification of topics of concern presented by our community. We certainly welcome public comment. I think that because we do not respond to the public comment at these regular business meetings we leave the impression we have not “heard” that public comment. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Board of Supervisors monthly meeting is a Board business meeting. It is a public meeting because the Counties business is conducted in public. It is not the best forum for discussion.
We encourage our constituents to meet with us individually for answers, but we also recognize that people need to hear what others are thinking. Thus, we have the birth of the town hall meeting, the first of which took place on April 1 of this year.
This is the place for all of you who wish to have a public conversation about what is happening, the decisions that are being made or not, to come and talk with the Board and with each other.
We will be moving the meeting times around in order to allow for different groups to join us. We met this time in late afternoon in order to accommodate the schedules of folks who work at night—the service industries, the lodging and restaurant partners who are never able to join us at the table or a Board meeting.
Next time we meet we will select a different time, and in fact, have determined the following schedule in order to be as fair and open to everyone to participate. The next meetings scheduled are July first, September thirtieth, and December second. (The locations and times will be announced.)
From my perspective I was very pleased. We welcomed approximately thirty five people who have not been able to attend the Board meetings and it was wonderful to hear their concerns along with those of many of our regular attendees.
What I would like to see going forward? I would like to see more actual conversation and dialogue. Unlike the Board meetings this is not just a “say your piece” and then leave. This is a “say your piece” and let me know or my fellow Board members respond. It is a “say your piece” and allow others attending to comment, discuss and resolve the issue. We cannot do this in a Board meeting because of the nature of a business meeting. We expect to do this in the Town Hall meetings because that is what Town Halls are all about—communicating back and forth, give and take.
It may help if we change the setting to a more informal one—perhaps meet one time at the Hot Springs Fire Station and the next at Fairview Community Center. Maybe the fact that we were in the Court Room made the comment opportunities feel too much like our regular Board meeting; and the Town Hall meetings are to be anything but a Board meeting.
Let us know your thoughts. Come to the Board meetings and learn the issues. Come to the Town Hall meeting to discuss the issues. Governance is not something we do to our community; it is something we do with our community. At least that is how I see it.