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Dateline Dixon: Does attendance at public meetings matter?

DIXON – Mayor Jim Burke drew a laugh from the peanut gallery Monday.

When it was brought up in the public comment period that there used to be fewer people attending City Council meetings before the Rita Crundwell theft or Shawn Ortgiesen's misuse of a city credit card, the mayor replied: "They must've thought we were doing a good job."

Resident Josie Whaley, who attends meetings regularly, scoffed, because she said citizens should attend meetings, no matter their community's situation.

It's a good thing for me and Sauk Valley Media that they don't.

Don't get me wrong, I encourage anyone who wishes to to attend City Council, school board or any public meetings, and offer their comments. There is an added value in attending these meetings firsthand and voicing an opinion in person for public record.

With that said, I don't fault anyone who takes a pass, nor do I think attendance at public meetings is a significant gauge for how the public body is doing.

That's the very reason my job as a journalist exists.

Within the city of Dixon alone, there are enough City Council, park district, school board, school committees, nonprofit groups and Riverfront meetings to make someone not working an 8-hour job dedicated to attending those meetings' head spin.

It's the newspaper's responsibility to report what happens at these meetings, so community members can get the information they need to know in about 15 minutes without having to attend every meeting in town, especially if an issue with the governing body arises.

People have families, jobs, hobbies, etc. and put a trust in media to communicate to them.

Sounds elementary, but I've heard many times at public meetings where nobody is in attendance, usually to the tune of: "It's a shame more people are not interested in what we're doing."

To that, I've always wanted to say, "I'm here for them."

For every controversy that arises, there are countless more items that pass without need for a fuss.

As a result, media focuses on those items that stir controversy, debate or have significant importance, because people need to know if something is happening that garners more of their attention than usual.

Sure, more people may then come to meetings, but it would be naive to think others don't pick up the phone to call their elected officials when something piques their interest or give them an earful when they see them around town.

Commissioner Jeff Kuhn has said that he gets more than a dozen phone calls a week from residents about various topics.

While meetings are a great place for residents to voice their opinion, don't let attendance numbers at meetings serve as a gauge for the community's interest, because there are constant conversations going on between the community, residents and the media.

In good times. And in bad.

Stop by

Derek Barichello's “office hours” will be from 1 to 2 p.m. today at Books on First, 202 W. First St. Feel free to stop by and ask questions, suggest story ideas, or just chat.

He also can be reached at dbarichello@saukvalley.com or 800-798-4085, ext. 526.

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