As I was attending the last couple of City Council meetings, I noticed there were two weeks in a row with public hearings that no citizens appeared to comment on.
Furthermore, there aren’t usually a lot of citizens who attend the City Council meetings in general, and there are almost never any citizens at the work sessions that are usually hosted prior to the meetings at 6 p.m.
The problem is, I don’t necessarily think it’s the citizens’ fault that they’re not attending the work sessions.
The City of Yukon is not breaking any law in regards to the Open Meeting Act, which requires that meetings of state and local boards, commissions, and other bodies must be open to the public and that all meetings must be conducted according to a posted agenda, according to www.ok.gov. But, I don’t think city officials make the meetings very inviting and are not very transparent within the work sessions.
Some citizens don’t know what they are able to expect from their city government or what necessarily the Open Meetings Act involves, so it is up to city officials to be open with the citizens.
For example, the work sessions and the City Council Christmas Dinner with the locations and times of each were posted on the agenda as required by law, but the agenda doesn’t make it clear that these are things open to the public.
Another example is that documents handed out during City Council’s work sessions SHOULD be public record because they are handed out during a public meeting and SHOULD be handed out to everyone in the room instead of just Council members, whether they request one or not. What they’re doing isn’t illegal by any means because people are expected to fill out record requests for public information, but I believe it to be unethical. To be ethical, city officials should be transparent and open with the citizens with all of the things discussed at a public meeting without making them jump through hoops to find out.
Especially as a journalist, I believe they should make sure to get me every document handed out so I can accurately report it to the people, who have every right to know everything that was discussed.
It’s important that citizens involve themselves with city government to familiarize themselves with issues before they appear before them on a ballot or before City Council members approve it with a majority vote.
Although citizens’ attendance at City Council meetings are important, I think attending the work session is even more important for that reason.
A side note to that is that the conference room of the Centennial Building where the work sessions are hosted is semi-hidden in the back of the building and is unfamiliar to those who have never been there. It’s also too small for more people to comfortably fit in if they were to attend.
During Tuesday’s work session after the regularly-scheduled City Council meeting Mayor John Alberts said, “I really wish we had this meeting [in the Council Chambers] so people could stay and stuff like that. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I catch a lot of flak that we do this stuff back here and people aren’t invited to look and listen and stuff like that. I mean, we can share this information but it’s not always easy to explain.” And I completely agreed with him. I appreciate the mayor always being the main one to stand up for the citizens of Yukon and try to be as open as possible.
I urge city officials to work on being more inviting, transparent and open with the people of Yukon, as well as urge citizens to be more involved with their city government. It’s important that we all work together to make Yukon the absolute best it can be.