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Friday, October 30, 2009

Are Mapp's Town Hall meetings worthwhile?

A Plainfield Today reader, with whom I was discussing Councilor Adrian Mapp's town hall meeting in advance of last night, expressed some scepticism as to whether this kind of forum was worthwhile, saying they saw no immediate benefit from Mapp's previous Town Hall in August, which focused on the then-proposed tax abatement for buyers of condos at the Monarch project (see report on that meeting here).

Let's review: Residents were both confused about what exactly the abatement was, and why it was restricted to Monarch condo buyers only. Councilor Mapp listened, took notes, and asnwered as well as he could.

Subsequently, when the Robinson-Briggs administration was REPEATEDLY unable to convincingly explain its case for the abatement to the Council, the whole proposal collapsed, with Council President Burney's comment sealing its fate, 'We will not be voting on the tax abatement ordinance.'

That seems to me to be a pretty direct outcome of the Town Hall meeting.

But even if there were no such direct impact, I think that Mapp's Town Hall meetings have great value.

Time and again, researchers point to the lack of trust in elected officials felt by ordinary folks.

In Plainfield, we often hear that lack of trust expressed along the lines of 'the only time we hear from a politician is when they are looking for our votes'.

Councilor Mapp is countering that broken trust in two ways -- first, by having the Town Hall meetings at all, and, secondly, by his style in conducting them, which is to make sure that they are primarily OPPORTUNITIES FOR RESIDENTS TO SOUND OFF, and not for showboating or windbagging by elected officials.

And I would say residents are responding warmly to the opportunity.

It also has an advantage which regular Council meetings (because they are now only held monthly and are weighted down with lengthy agendas) DO NOT HAVE: those wishing to speak do not have to wait until near the midnight hour to say what's on their mind.

One can sense the ease with which folks talk to Mapp, and I think that indicates the building up of a level of trust that those who do not reach out to their constituents should envy.

As I said to my reader, recalling my farm upbringing: 'It's like plowing a field. That's only the first step in a long process that leads to the harvest. But a necessary first step.'

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active citizen said...

I am not a resident of Councilman Mapp's district, but have attended meetings and garnered a great deal of information. I live on Crescent Avenue and wish my Councilor took interest in what happens with us. She never even attended one meeting on the Connolly debacle, which I attended, and I attended most of them. Too bad, no one who has or is living in a Connolly apartment will vote for her again.

Keep It Real said...

I think what councilman Mapp Townhall type meetings are great. I only caution that is townmeetings dont become another city council meeting. It should be restricted to residents of his district. Otherwise it will look like he is being a pseudo-mayor or council president. What I hope will come from this is more council members conducting their own townhall meetings.

Anonymous said...

Active citizen, if you live on Crescent Avenue your Councilor is Mr. Cory Storch.