At-large candidate for City Council Paul Harris Jr. makes the case for better citizen attendance of meetings of the city school board and City Council meetings as a way of holding Trenton’s public officials more accountable, in an Op/Ed in the Times of Trenton today.
While a citizenry that attended public meetings as often as Mr. Harris does would certainly be an attractive and welcome development in Trenton, it probably isn’t going to happen. A better case can be made for improving the broadcasting of public meetings as well as restructuring the meetings themselves.
Most citizens – even in towns without the social ills plaguing Trenton – do not have the time to attend every meeting simply because of the requirements of family and employment.
Allowing them the opportunity to observe the actions of their officials conveniently from their own home, like most towns do these days, would be a better endeavor. School board meetings are already broadcast on local TV, but that system would be way more effective with more timely and repetitive broadcasts.
Videos of City Council meetings – at least now that Mr. Harris stopped recording them – are not available at all, which is a ridiculous development for the capital city of a state like New Jersey where MANY towns record and broadcast meetings of the municipal governing body.
Also, both school board meetings and council meetings need to be restructured to cut down on length.
Sometimes City Council holds marathon doubleheader meetings starting at 1 p.m. and ending in the late evening, creating an untenable situation for maintaining public involvement.
Those meetings need to be done away with, as does the practice of holding some council meetings in the tiny, hot council conference chamber that allows officials to keep most of the public out of the room during important deliberations.
Mr. Harris is right in believing this city needs more public involvement, but it is simply unreasonable to expect the average citizen to maintain frequent attendance at the city’s public meetings.
Instead, council candidates like Mr. Harris and others ought to run on a platform of making it easier for citizens to know of the activities of their city officials, even if it’s from the comfort of their couch or their computer chair.