civic life

i attended a city council meeting today for the first time — and spoke on behalf of something i’m working on. it was a very strange experience, and a ton of thoughts come to mind.

first: wacky physical layout. the city council sits in chairs above everyone — chairs that i sit in when i’m on the library board. i have to say that i don’t like them either sitting in them or presenting to them. it’s an uncomfortable formality that really highlights the difference between council & the people. seems wrong to me.

the other thing that feels strange is that it’s not really a conversation. it’s a series of people talking. order matters. showing up matters. participating matters. but it’s not really set up to have a reasonable dialog. the laws in california — in particular the brown act — are structured to make everything transparent and accountable, but not to engender good group decision-making or collaboration. it’s about mobilization, coordination, and getting the message across to a set of people who make the call. it isn’t necessarily about finding good solutions to problems.

but that might be a fundamental misunderstanding on my part of what civic life is about. my experience tonight has highlighted for me that it’s completely, wholly alien to my daily work life. it also highlights that as our family becomes more attached to this city and this place — as we endeavor to become citizens in all meanings — that i have a great deal to learn about how to be effective and productive.

that’s why i got involved with the Library Board in the first place, so i’m glad to learn these lessons.

[i’d write more about some of the specific issues involved tonight, except for 2 reasons: (1) i’m a little unsure of my responsibilities under the brown act in terms of talking about positions & such, and (2) it was a set of emotional talks given by people who have lived in Sunnyvale for a long time and who care very much about it, and giving my emotional reaction, while it’d be therapeutic, would be counter-productive to over-emote in this blog. proof that i can learn. :-)]

update: i wrote all the above during the public discussion part of the meeting. once that was over, the council did their wrangling for a while, and that was actually fantastic & pretty productive, although still weird for me.

2 Replies to “civic life”

  1. I can only speak from the point of view of someone who tried to talk to a school board and found that there is no real discussion but it is apparently the only way for citizens to express a viewpoint. It’s not great, there are a lot of bureaucratic snags that they don’t tell everyone and it is probably more frustrating than satisfying for the citizens who really try. so the next time that topic comes up, they stay home. and watch The Wire.

  2. I can only speak from the point of view of someone who tried to talk to a school board and found that there is no real discussion but it is apparently the only way for citizens to express a viewpoint. It’s not great, there are a lot of bureaucratic snags that they don’t tell everyone and it is probably more frustrating than satisfying for the citizens who really try. so the next time that topic comes up, they stay home. and watch The Wire.

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