Town hall meetings a good idea

Laurinburg Councilwoman Mary Evans has been urging the city to hold town hall meetings for a long time.

Even before she joined council this year, Evans was a strong proponent of elected leaders getting feedback from the citizens they serve.

The retired veteran has certainly never shied away from expressing her opinion to decision makers or anyone else.

On Tuesday night, Evans was back before council to lay out her vision for how and why city leaders need to hold regular meeting with residents.

Most monthly council meetings are so heavy with business matters, reports and public hearings that there is little time for public comment. When citizens do come to council meetings to speak or ask questions, the board as a matter of policy rarely responds.

Evans said she would like a forum with more give-and-take.

She suggested that all council members attend and that the meetings be held in central locations in the district, but not churches.

“What I have in mind is a room full of people coming together in unity to talk about issues that impact our community whether it be positive or negative,” Evans said before the meeting. “We need more communication, not less.”

Mayor Matthew Block and Councilman James Garby Jr. like the idea. Block said if approved, the town halls should be done as a city backing — financial and otherwise — including advertising and security.

“Not just a council member going out on their own,” Block said.

Sounds simple enough, but as is the case with most government functions, the idea comes with red tape.

The city attorney expressed concerns earlier this year about upholding open meeting laws if a quorum of council members attend a town hall. He said if there was a quorum present, a meeting and minutes must be prepared.

The city manager was worried about holding town halls during election years and the involvement of staff.

Council members Curtis Leak and Mary Jo Adams had their own questions about the concept.

Adams said there should be a specific purpose for the meetings, and Leak offered that it would be difficult to get citizens to attend unless there is a “really big issue.”

Leak also said that Evans had every right to meet with her constituents. When residents in his district request a meeting, he attends, he said.

Evans thinks council can overcome “any minor concerns” expressed by staff and her fellow board members.

We hope she is right.

Town halls can be traced back to the colonial era. Historians say the 1858 debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas resembled a sort of town hall meeting.

Those kinds of gathering were and continue to be an important way for leaders to hear the community’s views on public issues. Participants can present ideas, voice their opinions and ask questions.

“I can only make our community better,” Evans said.

Council needs to listen to that voice and a whole lot of others.