Mayor Bill Euille joked at Saturdays public hearing that more people came out to speak their mind about moving municipal elections to November that day than voted in the May 5 election the last one, as it turned out, because the City Council voted to make the switch.
Whether residents agreed with the decision or not and there are endless reasons to oppose and support the decision there was truth in his words that are undeniable: city residents take stake in their home and the decisions that are made about it.
Of the approximately 40 speakers giving their points of view during a nine and-a-half hour public hearing and legislative session, not one conjured up an uninspired word. Disagreeable words to some, perhaps, but at its base every speaker was there for a reason, which cannot be overlooked.
City politics and public policy are contentious at times. Decisions are made every day with an army of both opposition and support. Because someone was absent from a public discussion does not discount his or her opinion, nor does someone being present make his or her words correct or incorrect. In the end, the fact that residents find importance in discussing pertinent issues in an open forum at all is a reward for everyone.
The majority of speakers disagreed with moving the elections to November, as well as the perception of political maneuvering by a Council at the end of its term. They made that known, sitting through a marathon of discourse, despite the predictable outcome (based on previous statements of voting members). This is an admirable quality that transcends political party and is not necessarily the norm across the country.
Of course civic engagement between elected officials, community organizations and everyday residents could stand to exist on a higher level. The attendants at the public hearing represented just a sliver of the population, which for the most part stays home on municipal voting days.
Because what is done is done and Virginia law, at least currently, prohibits the city from changing its elections back to May, the decision should be seen as an opportunity for city officials to publicize, promote and disseminate information on issues to segments of the population that do not find time to get down to City Hall.
Individual voter knowledge varies, but the significance of their votes does not. If elected officials make mutual efforts to reach out, the city has the ability to replicate Saturdays packed public hearing on larger level every election year, whatever the month.