• 401 Frederica Street, B-203
  • Owensboro, Kentucky 42301
  • (270) 685-2652 | FAX (270) 685-6074

Editor's Notes:

Making sense of public input

During a recent public meeting, City Commissioner Jim Glenn made it clear: He was opposed to any taxpayer support of a proposed stadium to attract a minor league baseball team to our community. He was even more adamant in his opposition to English Park as the stadium site. Commissioner Glenn said his position was not a reflection of his personal views, but those of his constituents, who have firmly stated their opposition to the project and the English Park location.

This is encouraging and we commend the commissioner. Anytime a public official places a high value on the voice of the people – particularly everyday citizens who typically are not represented in circles of influence – that is a good thing. We would be well-served if more officials did the same. Nonetheless, something is unsettling about this. Commissioner Glenn did not say how many citizens confronted him about the project or whether they appeared to understand the proposal before coming to judgment. Moreover, he did not place any value on other forms of citizen input that have come forth on the same proposal. Perhaps the Bring Back Baseball Committee (of which I am a member) has not effectively communicated with the city commission in previous meetings and presentations.

Perhaps Commissioner Glenn was unaware that n In January 2004, the BBB Committee retained a Louisville market research firm to conduct a telephone survey to gauge support for the baseball team-stadium project. Three hundred citizens participated and support for the project was remarkably strong. This was a credible, professional survey and the results should be valued. n In October 2004, the BBB Committee hosted an open meeting at English Park to share information and answer questions about the baseball project and a potential stadium at the park. Invitations were distributed door-to-door throughout the English Park neighborhood.

Approximately 50 residents attended the meeting. The dialogue was healthy and respectful, setting the tone for workable approaches to resident concerns if a portion of English Park is ever used for a stadium. n In the May 2005 edition of the Public Life Advocate, readers were invited to rank their preferences from six major community projects under consideration based on 25 criteria. The baseball stadium received the highest ranking of all the projects from the 115 citizens responding. All three of these exercises represent good faith efforts to communicate and solicit feedback from our community on this project. Approximately 465 people participated – not a large number, but certainly not insignificant, and considerably more, I suspect, than the number of citizens who communicated with any city commissioner about the project.

Moreover, in these three exercises, citizen remarks were not impetuous. Citizens were not venting; they had an opportunity to learn about the project while coming to judgment. It is difficult for public officials to make sense of various forms of citizen input. They must interpret conversations, presentations, notes, phone calls, letters to the editor, and rallies to determine if it represents a critical mass of public opinion. They must balance the results of polls and surveys with comments at public hearings, positions of interest groups, and chit chat over coffee at the local diner. Officials can be placed in an even more thorny position if they suspect that the judgment of citizens is based on unreliable or inadequate information.

Despite their best efforts to inform the public, they may be forced to make tough, unpopular decisions that threaten their political future. Clearly, the public decision-making process and communication between public official and constituent is more of an art than a science. We need more leaders like Commissioner Glenn who are sensitive to the views of their constituents, but we also need officials who will educate the public, withhold judgment until they have all the facts and listen to as many people as possible. We need officials who will stay focused on the common good and not their next campaign. In so doing, we will make better decisions and live up to the promise of our democratic process.

Copyright ©2005 Public Life Foundation of Owensboro
Site Development by Red Pixel Studios