By Paula Smith, USN Columnist

Washington County Commissioners offered a town hall last night, 12/19/23, at 3:30pm.

I appreciate the town hall meeting for providing residents with the opportunity to speak and engage in conversations with elected representatives. While many attendees expressed concern and a preference for restoring public comments to the original “on the record” format, I favored the interactive style of this meeting, which was not “of record.” This format allowed for meaningful dialogue, unlike the traditional approach where the public is limited to three minutes without the opportunity for comments or reciprocal conversation from the Commissioners. The public attendees have consistently requested later meeting times to accommodate working individuals, a suggestion that the commissioners have consistently resisted.

The Commissioners assert that the current timing is optimal, yet the ultimate judge of the “best time” should be the consensus among the people. While the Commissioners maintain that they have consulted with numerous residents, acknowledging the impossibility of pleasing everyone, I am not convinced of the accuracy of their stance. Instead of adopting a defensive posture regarding their decision, it would be beneficial for them to consider providing evidence or taking steps to demonstrate why the prevailing sentiment among the people might be incorrect.

The Commissioners have overlooked several chances to substantiate the soundness of their decisions. One such opportunity was conducting a hand count in a previous contentious election to verify the accuracy of our voting machines. Instead, they collaborated with the Clerk to conduct an “audit,” which generated more uncertainties than it provided reassurance. Opting for a hand count in that relatively smaller election would have allowed them to demonstrate the accuracy of their system, disproving any doubts raised by the public and eliminating uncertainty. While acknowledging the existence of voter fraud in “other” places, the Commissioner’s confidence in our election security could be better demonstrated by taking concrete steps to prove it to the people.

Despite citizens’ requests for hand counts, the Commissioners argue that such actions are more complex than perceived. While acknowledging that citizens may be directing their concerns to the wrong parties, the Commissioners can collaborate with the Clerk (also an elected position) and fulfill their duty to the public. Instead of actively working towards a solution, they persist in defending themselves and their decisions. The motivation behind this defensive stance raises questions, as it hinders establishing a collaborative and transparent resolution to address the concerns of the citizens they serve. Why?

Changing the timing of Commission meetings, especially the Town hall meeting, provides another opportunity for the Commissioners to address concerns and proactively defend their decisions. A constructive approach could involve a temporary adjustment, such as moving the meeting to a later time for a period of three months. During this time, they could gather data on any additional staff pay or costs incurred and assess the level of public participation.

Examining the data collected throughout the trial period would provide the Commissioners with a solid foundation to illustrate the consequences or benefits of the schedule change.

If attendance persists at a steady level despite the timing adjustment, the Commissioners can leverage this evidence to convey to the public that their concerns were acknowledged. This proactive and data-driven methodology would demonstrate a dedication to representation and responsiveness to the electorate, potentially cultivating goodwill and understanding. And Trust.

Rather than defending their decisions outright, a demonstration of flexibility and responsiveness may better align with the expectations of the voters who elected them. It also provides an opportunity to gauge public sentiment for reelections, showcasing a commitment to adaptability and engagement with the community. Perhaps they aren’t worried about reelections.

Again, I ask, WHY?

Local National Host Kate Dalley did an unaired podcast regarding this Town Hall. She previously hosted a local hour specific to our Washington County area (in addition to her National hour), however the station abruptly canceled that local hour (just before our local elections). Here is a link to her unaired podcast, if you’re interested: