August 16, 2013 10:41:10 AM
City officials and MDOT and railroad officials held at public meeting Thursday to listen to citizens' views on the proposal to close six Southside railroad crossings while adding safety devices at the remaining six crossings a between First Street and 22nd Street.
They got an earful, too.
For almost an hour, residents approached the microphone at the municipal complex to explain their support or opposition to the plan.
And while all of the "official" entities involved in the plan got beat up a bit, there is no question that the meeting was productive, informative and, yes, encouraging.
Regardless of which camp you fell into, citizens on both sides of the debate made compelling points. While there were a few instances of mild catcalls and impromptu applause, those who attended comported themselves honorably. Although there were passionate advocates on either side of the issue, the meeting never threatened to collapse into a shouting match. The old saying,"shed light, not heat" was the prevailing tenor of the meeting.
In the end, it is clear that when the city council meets to decide whether to proceed with the plan or abandon it, the decision will not be an easy one. No matter the decision, it will be popular among some Southside residents and unpopular among others. Of course, an unpopular decision isn't always a bad decision, nor is a popular decision always the wise choice.
But it seems clear that the council will be able to make an informed decision and the points raised by many of the citizens certainly broadened the discussion. Assertions were questioned, statistics were challenged and new ideas were presented, all as direct result of the community's lively participation.
Even if you don't have much of a stake in this matter, Thursday's meeting was either a source of hope or a painful reminder of how things used to be.
Roughly 80 citizens turned out for the meeting, probably 50 more than usually attend the regular city council meetings.
Even when the city council has addressed issues that had a far greater impact on the city, crowds have typically been small. Usually, only one or two citizens take the opportunity to speak at the council meetings.
As a result, the council often reaches its decisions with little input -- or pressure-- from residents.
You often get the impression this council likes it that way. By regularly slipping controversial matters onto the agenda at the last possible moment, the council has subverted the public's role in government, which is unfortunate. Even more unfortunate is that, up until now, residents seem to have hardly cared.
Thursday's meeting illustrates just how vital the voice of the people is, a fact councilman Charlie Box noted near the end of the meeting.
"This is how city government should operate," Box said.
He was absolutely right.
As the meeting ended and residents made their way out of the municipal complex, you could not help but note the spirit of optimism that prevailed. There is something uplifting about knowing that an issue has been thoroughly debated and that all points of view have been considered. It as a brief, good moment for a city that often seems to have lost its spirit.
Let's hope Thursday's meeting is the beginning of a new era in city government, one that is distinguished by the participation of a large, well-informed group of citizens determined to play their critical role in city government.
The city council holds its next meeting Tuesday.
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