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Open for Discussion
March 7, 2011 - Joselyn King
I was at the hair salon this weekend -- discussing politics in the chair, no less -- when my stylist asked me, "Just what good are these town hall meetings? Does anything good ever come from them? Aren't they just all about someone getting up, speaking their mind, and just feeling good about themselves?"
While that's part of it, there's more to it, I assured him. It's all about there being an open dialogue between constituents and an elected official, and thus open government.
It doesn't work when the public comes with the attitude, "I'm not here to ask questions. I'm here to give the answers because you know nothing."
It also doesn't work when the elected official comes with a pre-determined mind set, and isn't interested in listening to those who might enlighten.
In the best case scenario, the public is able to present real-life perspective to their represenative. And just maybe the public learns something from the discussion, their elected official, or from each other.
Obviously, none of this happens when an official doesn't feel the responsiblity to hold a town hall meeting.
And it certainly doesn't occur when a citizen takes the floor at a town hall meeting, proceeds to unleash a diatribe about how the official is personally responsible for the horrible state of his life and the entire world order -- then turns tail, and runs for the door before the official can even respond.
I saw this happen at the recent town hall meeting in Brookside hosted by U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio. (I'll note that the cowardly citizen did sneak back in to the event.)
Another recent town hall reflected especially well on all who participated. This one was co-hosted in downtown Wheeling by Ohio County delegates Erikka Storch, a Republican; and Ryan Ferns, a Democrat.
The bi-partisan crowd present asked intelligent questions, and made noteworthy comments that were likely helpful to the freshmen delegates. Ferns and Storch, meanwhile, informed the crowd of important legislation presently before the legislature, and asked their opinions.
Maybe a town hall discussion won't change the world, but it does open the dialogue for betterment.
And if anyone locally was contacted by the office of U.S. Rep. David McKinley last week during his tele-town hall last week, let me know your impressions? Are the tele-town halls as useful as the in-person events?
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