There has been a wake-up call in Gates Mills, Munson Township and other local communities.
Residents are attending meetings and demanding to have their voices heard on issues they consider to be paramount to the future of their communities.
Officials who are elected or appointed to councils and boards do need to allow citizens to openly express their opinions on pending matters. But residents must understand that rules are in place to keep order at meetings. That means everyday people need to pay attention on a regular basis to the matters being discussed and decisions being made by public officials in their communities.
This is not difficult to accomplish. Laws are in place mandating that public bodies announce when meetings will take place. Agendas are published ahead of time detailing matters to be addressed. Governmental websites and bulletin boards have this information. People can also pick up the phone and request the information from clerks. That means most school board, council, trustee or planning commission meetings should have audiences on a regular basis.
The reality is they usually do not. The crowds don’t appear until there is controversy.
In April, talk of a proposal to build 16 houses in a cluster development on a little more than 16 acres of land in Gates Mills drew opposition from some residents because the plan would need a variance from the village’s 5-acre per residence requirement as stated in the zoning code. A group called Gates Mills Residents for Responsible Village Development formed and invited a councilwoman to a meeting. She assured the group that council had no interest in moving forward with this proposal.
That apparent decision really should have been discussed at an open council meeting.
The citizens group then sent a letter to council and the mayor with a number of requests, including creation of a master development plan (and involving residents in that process), more transparency on the part of the planning commission and giving residents a vote on all significant zoning changes. The letter stated that the planning commission failed to seek broad input from residents regarding the cluster home development.
We agree that all governmental bodies should be transparent. But it is up to citizens to get involved. Residents already have the rights and power to be part of the governmental process. They need to engage that power by attending meetings and talking to council, commission and board members. If residents cannot be at all meetings, copies of the minutes or recordings of public sessions can be requested.
Don’t stop there. Submit public records requests for copies of budgets, proposed legislation or plans for a pending development filed in the zoning office. These documents are public information.
In Munson, a group of homeowners were upset about a proposed change to the township zoning code. That change would eliminate residents’ ability to have a say in whether a temporary permit could be issued by the township to allow activities like festivals and art shows on adjacent property.
The Munson zoning board did hold a public hearing on this matter weeks ago. Residents unaware of the issue attended a second meeting and wanted to speak. The board, however, stated that the public hearing on that issue was officially closed. The board then voted to recommend that township trustees remove the language from the zoning code. Trustees likely will have a hearing on this matter, so it is now up to residents to attend that meeting to have their say.
Citizens don’t have to ask to be included in the governmental process. They already have that power. They just have to stay aware of issues and show up.