The five-member commission is collecting public input before fulfilling their task of proposing new council districts for Baltimore County. (For details on the process, rules, deadlines and district maps, go here.)
After a brief introduction by the commission's chair, Ed Crizer, six citizens spoke for two minutes each. Roughly twenty minutes after they had started, the Commission packed up to leave. Quite a few late-arriving citizens were surprised and disappointed to find that the whole hearing was over. A handful spoke with exiting Commission members at the main entrance to the school. At their request, the Commission graciously agreed to reconvene the session. Three more speakers signed up. When they were done, the commission members left quickly.
It still seemed like a brief, cursory meeting.
The evening left me wondering how serious this Commission is about gathering public input. If I had been in their shoes and only six people had signed up, I would have considered doing something ad hoc to get something useful from the speakers and audience members who had turned out.
Maybe give each speaker an extra minute or two, have a more informal Q&A with the audience, or just stand around having conversations with citizens. The commission didn't think to do anything like this. I didn't see such much impulse to think outside the box or go the extra mile.
After they had left, eight or ten us remained for a half-hour or so, sharing our thoughts about redistricting and what we thought of the hearing.
- A couple of people told me they wished that a commission member had given an introductory talk explaining the redistricting process and how events will unfold over the next year or so. No one on the Commission did this. In his brief intro remarks Mr. Crizer spoke mostly about how the night's hearing would run.
- Another person suggested that turnout might have been better if the session had been held at the local community center.
- A third, who had been at the first hearing two nights ago in Towson, wondered why district maps had been posted the first night, but not on the second. She saw several other discrepancies, and felt that the Commission should be consistent in how they handle each session. She also had heard that the commission would be having another hearing around July to discuss their preliminary report with the public. If this meeting is on the schedule, it has not been widely publicized yet.
Someone else pointed out that the Commission first met only a few weeks ago and hasn't really gotten rolling yet. Commissioners also got credit for volunteering their time (if they are paid, I'm not aware of it.)
Having the commission is a good thing. Ten years ago during the last redistricting, we didn't have a commission.
But there's room for improvement in this public hearing process.