On Tuesday night, I felt a collective gasp from at least 33 citizens after the Page County Board of Supervisors meeting. “They didn’t even read my letter?!” is what I imagine most were thinking.
Citizens have a right to be upset. Page County did not read comments submitted by the public for the open comment period during the meeting. I have asked the County if this is the first time that this has ever happened before and am awaiting a reply. It is safe to say that if this has ever happened before, it is the first time in recent history.
Literally, the voice of the people was stifled. What we did hear was that the comments, all 33 of which were in support of the solar ordinance passed by the Page County Planning Commission, would be summarized in the minutes.
This is a problem for several reasons:
- Summarized means edited.
- Citizens committed their time to writing their comments, likely re-writing them to fit them into the three minute time limit and navigating the Page County website to submit their comments. They had every expectation that the comments would be read as usual into the record.
- Now, the only way the community can know the detailed concerns these citizens intended to make public is to submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the County (which we’ve done).
- We were told that all of the comments were included in the Board members packets, however, without the benefit of hearing the comments aloud, one must question whether or not the comments will be read with the same care that each citizen took in writing them.
- This must have been legally permissible since the county attorney attended the meeting and didn’t advise otherwise, however, it is a stark example of a lack of open government principals.
- I understand it would have taken time during the meeting to listen to the comments but why are elected officials in their position if not to listen to and represent the citizens who elected them? After all, is this not what democracy is based upon?
We are also concerned about the decreased public access to this particular meeting. In this time when the public cannot attend in person due to Covid restrictions, the County removed the possibility of citizens joining via Zoom. The only option was YouTube. Though we appreciate the County finally offering both audio and visual access to the meetings through YouTube live streaming, removing Zoom meant there was no phone number for citizens to call so they could at least listen to the meeting. So, in order to virtually participate in the meeting, every citizen had to have a computer, reliable internet access and sufficient data to live stream the meeting.
The open comment period is on the agenda as an opportunity for the elected representatives to hear from their citizens as well as a time when the citizens can hear what is on the mind of each other. When citizens are literally not being heard, frustration increases and distrust deepens. This is both unnecessary and harmful to our community.
We understand the solar issue is complicated, but ignoring the thoughts and concerns of the citizens is only making the situation worse.
We understand that the pandemic has made everything more difficult but it is incumbent on local governments during this time to strive to be even MORE transparent, not less!
Page County has been here before with the landfill, the proposed Fibrowatt development and the failed industrial park. Let’s do better this go around. Page County Board of Supervisors: Don’t shut out citizens, just listen.