Our elected officials, including our State Senator George Edwards, our Delegate Wendell Beitzel, and our Garrett County Commissioners give regular reports to the Chamber of Commerce on matters of public interest where people have to pay to hear the elected officials share their views. This includes the Commissioners’ report on economic development, their annual report on the state of the county, and the report by Sen. Edwards and Del. Beitzel on the legislative accomplishments of the legislative session in Annapolis. The Commissioners also hold most of their meetings at 4pm, when most people are at work and cannot attend; and at those meetings the agenda calls for FIVE minutes of public comment or FIVE minutes for “public hearings” on various topics.
Recently, the Garrett County Commissioners, at the request of the Democratic Club, gave their report concerning their vision for the county’s economic development to a free public forum open to the public, but this only occurred eight months after they had given that same report to the Chamber. Nearly 100 people attended this public presentation at Garrett College, indicating that the public is indeed interested. And evidence demonstrates that many more people attend the Commissioners’ regular meetings when they are held in the evening and the agenda reflects a real desire to solicit citizen input.
This is not intended as a criticism of the Chamber, but rather of the elected officials with respect to transparency in government. It might be fine to give a report at the behest of the Chamber of Commerce, but do it at a public meeting, or require the Chamber to invite the public and make their attendance free. (After all, the Chamber receives $800,000 of taxpayer money; in return, you’d think we the public could attend meetings of public interest without paying extra.)
Some people say that the public is not interested. However, current procedures do not encourage citizen participation in our public business. We would like to see public officials striving to inform and engage the citizenry. The commissioners have agreed to give another “private” briefing to the Chamber on the state of the county on July 10. They should cancel that meeting and schedule a free public forum open to all citizens to hear the commissioners talk about the state of the county.
Bob and Mary Helen Spear, Swanton, MD