A petition can tell you a few things in any given community across this great country of ours. It can tell you a lot about the collective consciousness of a community and about the emotions going through the heads of voters and area residents.
A petition, one that is either sufficient or insufficient, can also start a conversation.
In the last couple of weeks, news of a petition that made the rounds started spreading in the town of Outlook. The creator of the document was a man named Matthew Lawless, who submitted the following to us that ran in the newspaper and on our website last week:
"I would like to express appreciation to the 54 taxpayers in the Town of Outlook who signed their name alongside mine on a community petition, calling on Mayor Weiterman and Council to host an open-forum, public meeting as soon as possible. I submitted our documentation to the Mayor on March 2nd, and I received a response from Kevin Trew, CAO for the Town of Outlook, on March 13th. I regret to report that the Town of Outlook has deemed our documentation "insufficient", based on a number of technicalities.
I was also informed that it was an ERROR for me to submit our petition directly to Mayor Weiterman, and instead it should have been submitted to the CAO. I was unaware that the Mayor and Council have a gatekeeper between themselves and the citizens of Outlook.
I sincerely hope that Mayor Weiterman and Council will take the opportunity to discuss the legitimate concerns of all petitioners at a public meeting, as soon as possible, regardless of the insufficiency of the documentation. I think discussing municipal matters of great importance NOW, is preferable to a discussion during the election campaign of 2024."
So, he tried and he didn't get the answer he was hoping for. Hey, it happens. But here's the thing that I can't help but wonder - has this at least started a conversation for something down the road? Does the mere presence of a petition tell people that a public meeting may in fact be in order?
It's funny, because I received a private message from someone after publishing Mr. Lawless's letter online. The person, a former employee of the Town of Outlook, somehow thought that *I* should get more people to sign this petition, which was deemed insufficient, and then made claims about town workers spending more time on their phones than doing their jobs.
I was baffled, but I responded that, in the first place, it's not my petition, so I won't do anything of the sort. Second, it's not my responsibility OR my job to influence people into signing something that isn't even my creation in the first place. The person had no valid response to my rebuttal.
At this point, I'll go ahead and proverbially take off my journalist hat for a second and just talk to you 'Outlook resident to Outlook resident' here. Do I personally think Outlook should hold a public meeting? Yes, I do. It was pointed out to me at our offices that the Mayor had said in the midst of the COVID pandemic that one would be scheduled after restrictions had calmed down and things had resumed back to normal, and it was also pointed out that while the previous Council had held a public meeting, the current one has yet to do so.
Both of those are more than fair points to me, but here's the ugly truth of some of this - what some angry and opinionated people are looking for is simply an open forum to holler criticisms and complaints at their elected officials. They want to go in groups, get a bunch of their friends together who might also have complaints, and they want to go in as a big gang where they have strength in numbers.
As someone who's seen a few meetings go down, I can tell you that the open forum formula with no set agenda accomplishes absolutely nothing. Criticisms are lobbed, maybe even a few names are called, the crowd goes "Oooohhhhh' and 'Whoooaaaa', and nobody leaves happy except the person who hurled the insults. Congratulations, you just made a clown out of yourself by insulting someone in front of a large group of people because you didn't have the stones to talk to them one-on-one like an adult!
Instead, a public meeting in which key topics are highlighted for discussion is much better.
If you were to ask me, I say have the meeting. Things like community open houses and the Mondays with the Mayor sessions are fantastic, and they're very evident of Council's openness with the public, but I also think they're just a start. If the people are interested, why not publicize an agenda and call a public meeting? Let's get some coffee and let's sit down and talk about everything Outlook for a couple of hours.
No harm in that, right?
For this week, that's been the Ruttle Report.