While Mr. Arentz did not get rid of public participation altogether, he moved it to the very end of the meetings which he knows is the most inconvenient time of the citizens. The citizens know that the early comment period was their most valuable and practical means of exercising their right to participate in their county government.
Half of the commissioner meetings are morning meetings and half are evening meetings. Prior to Mr. Arentz’s new dictate, the public comment periods were always near the beginning of these meetings. Previous commissioners were aware that most citizens need to go to work late in order to speak at a morning meeting. They knew that by moving public comment to the end of the morning meetings, it would mean people would have to take the whole day off, and that few people could afford to do that. They also knew that moving public comment to the end of an evening meeting would mean that few citizens would, or could, stay to eleven or twelve at night in order to speak. Their goal was to encourage and make public participation possible, not prevent it.
At the very heart of our representative democracy is public participation and as Americans we have both the right and the responsibility to participate in our government. We vote for the leaders of our government which in turn we expect to act on the will of the people. However, our participation means far more than just casting a vote. It means becoming and staying informed, attending meetings and voicing our beliefs and desires to our government.
When citizens are prevented from public participation, government officials make decisions without hearing the people’s will, which greatly reduces their responsibility to be transparent or accountable for their actions. Limiting citizen comment encourages a genuine abuse of powers and the erosion of our democratic society.
All too often, Americans have been withdrawing from public participation in their town and county governments. Many believe their voices will be ignored and that most politicians are self-serving and crooked. When it comes to public participation, however, our history is rich with examples where it only took a few people, at key points in time, to effect great change.
Queen Anne’s County Commissioners Dave Dunmyer and Bob Simmons have stated their full support of putting public comment back near the beginning of their meetings. Commissioner Phil Dumenil has stated, “It really doesn’t matter to me if we do it before or later in the meeting.” Commissioner Dave Olds has not returned emails and phone calls requesting his opinion on the matter.
By putting the opportunity for Queen Anne’s County citizens to participate in their government last on his agenda, commission president Steve Arentz’s is making a strong statement. For those who believe in our democratic principles of government and don’t believe that any citizen of our county should be in last place, please email, call or write your commissioners. Their information is listed below.
Better yet, attend the next county commissioner meeting, Tuesday, February 22nd. It will be in the evening, however, the agenda has not yet been posted. When it is posted, you will be able to click on the following to see if you’re still in last place: http://www.qac.org/default.aspx?pageid=1366&template=3&PageLevel=2&toplevel=36&cid=44
Commissioner Address: 107 N. Liberty St. Centreville, MD 21617
Ph: 410.758.4098 Fax: 410.758.1170
Ph: 410.758.4098 Fax: 410.758.1170
President: Steve J. Arentz (443) 262-5303 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Vice President: Philip L. Dumenil (443) 262-5367 email: email@example.com
David L. Dunmyer (443) 262-5315 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bob Simmons (443) 262-5324 email: email@example.com
Dave Olds (443) 262-5411 email: firstname.lastname@example.org