So last night was illuminating. I attended both the County Commission workshop on how they plan to spend the $40 million from the Feds and the regular County Commission meeting. Seeing that no public hearing was held in our area and that there’s been limited to no promotion around the solicitation of public feedback, I figured I'd go to see what’s happening in person.
I decided to address the commissioners during Public Comment to mention some of my concerns around the need for greater accessibility for meeting times and transparency. I mentioned how difficult it is for working Mainers to make 3:30PM or even 4:30PM meetings not to mention the public hearings held even earlier in day over the summer. I also mentioned some ideas like County Commissioners holding virtual forums to get direct constituent input.
Instead of just taking my constructive feedback, one by one the commissioners decided to make excuses and even berate me from the dais. It was incredibly inappropriate and very sad to see. The fact that the County Commission doesn’t even think there is a problem with awareness and participation, is in fact the problem. They don’t see how the structure of county government is keeping people from engaging in the process.
I was literally told if working Mainers want to attend their meetings, they should take off time from work to be there. Period. No sympathy. No willingness to consider alternatives. Excuses included comparing themselves to the state legislature. They have day meetings, so we must as well. Keep in mind County Commissioners meet generally twice a month just like municipal government and can set the meeting times whenever they want. Having served 8 years there, they aren’t the legislature. I was also told issues like government transparency and accessibility aren’t real issues, just noise. Aside from inaccessible meeting times, no wonder no one goes to the meetings to give comments. What’s the point of providing public comment if you aren’t going to listen to the public? They just ignored one of their constituents very publicly.
One positive from the night, I was able to get them to at least acknowledge the current lawsuit pending against the county for a lack of disclosure of public records by a media organization. I’ve been raising the alarm about this for a month and half since the news broke and all I’ve wanted was County Commissioners to put out a statement that they are looking into the matter. It’s been crickets up until last night when my comments finally broke through and we got a response. It shouldn’t take a former legislator publicly calling them out for our County Commissioners to keep us informed and recognize the seriousness of not dealing with public records requests.
This whole experience has left me with a sour taste in mouth. The arrogant, status quo attitude gives me a firm desire to demand change. The lack of public awareness of what’s happening in county government has clearly given County Commissioners a blank check with no accountability and subsequently created major complacency. We deserve better.