Please come to our public hearing, be turned away
Imagine yourself in the following situation:
There's a government meeting in Minocqua you feel the need to attend. Notice of the meeting has been in every newspaper you've read and on every television channel you've watched. The media attention only confirms its importance. So, you took a few hours off from work, or maybe you took a vacation day to attend and voice your opinion or even observe. Maybe you drove hours to be present. In the Tomahawk Leader's case, it was our job to attend and report on the Legislature's Joint Committee for the Review of Administrative Rules (JCRAR).
Our reporter was early to arrive and found herself driving in and out of filled up parking lots for more than 15 minutes before walking into the Minocqua Community Center at 10:30 a.m. for the 11 a.m. meeting. On the top floor of the building she edged the stairs, wondering if the meeting room had been opened to the public or if it was already full. She quickly learned the latter. Determined to get inside that room, she walked past the growing crowd of property owners, sportsmen and concerned citizens.
When she arrived in the meeting room, people were standing on chairs that were lined up against the back wall. A vacant chair was not available in the media box, so our reporter stood with the public who were consequently standing in front of people sitting against the back wall. While some citizens were pushing their way into the room to be heard, others were fearful of the conditions and left their seats. By the way, there was no room for handicapped individuals and no special accommodations for the elderly.
Our reporter saw one of two agendas that were being passed around among the attendees. Apparently there was no effort to make copies.
The room reportedly had a 100-person capacity, a far cry from the hundreds of people who showed up. At one point, it was estimated 400 people were in attendance. And, since the room only held a quarter of that, 300 were told to pass time by going to a rummage sale also being held in the complex and when there was room, they would be asked to return to the meeting. Fed up with the conditions, those concerned citizens who wanted to be heard, left.
It's great that the JCRAR meeting was highly publicized and that the committee held its gathering in the Northwoods, but we feel there should have been better planning to accommodate such a crowd.
A meeting addressing a topic of this caliber should be held in a place that is accessible to every interested taxpayer in our state, not in a shoebox, where parking also happens to be impossible.
If opinions are solicited, an opportunity to express those should be at the public's disposal.