February was a very loud month for the United States. Every time you turned around it seemed someone was shouting at someone else. Much of this occurred at so-called “town hall” meetings held by various congressmen, as protestors packed the gatherings. Eight years ago it was Democratic congresspersons taking the flak from opponents of President Obama’s policies. This year it was Republicans who were the target of those taking exception to the direction President Trump would like to steer the country. Many Republicans who have not held town halls are being criticized for not listening to their constituents.
To be honest, I have never liked the town hall format. A meeting where a politician stands on a stage behind a podium at the front of a crowded auditorium pontificating while people wait in line behind a microphone to ask their questions is not my idea of constructive engagement. When they devolve into planned protests complete with signs and organized chants they tend to do more harm than good. It may make for compelling television, but in the end they only serve to drive us further apart at a time when we need to come together to address serious problems affecting us all.
So although I think elected officials should keep in touch with citizens, I am not a fan of town halls. I have a better idea. For several years I have been conducting a series of meetings with my constituents I call “District Discussions.” It’s a simple concept. I randomly invite a number of people to a Saturday morning meeting at a local library and usually get 10 to 20 to show up. We sit around a table and discuss county issues for about 90 minutes. I begin by talking about two or three issues that I am particularly interested in and then invite comments and questions on these or any other issues of interest to attendees. The discussion is free flowing. My favorite part is that I am often able to sit back and listen to people discuss issues with their neighbors. The best part is that even though people may occasionally disagree, there is no shouting or name calling. It is all quite civil. It is government like it ought to be.
I recently held a couple of these district discussions. One was at the Grand Island Library in November and the most recent was a couple weeks ago at Brighton Place in the Town of Tonawanda. We talked about a number of issues at both. But the main topic was the devastating opioid epidemic that has ravaged the nation and has impacted too many families in our community. A number of people shared information on the topic that helped form my opinion regarding the direction the county should head in our battle against opioid addiction. I consider it time well spent and am thankful for all who attended.
Now I am thinking I should open these meeting up to more of our citizens. If you were not random enough to be among those I randomly invited in the past and would like to attend a future session, please contact my office and I will see that you receive an invitation to our next, as of yet unscheduled, district discussion.
If you have thoughts you would like to share, I would love to hear from you. I can be contacted by phone at 858-8672 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.