Published 1:07 am Saturday, January 6, 2007
Within the next several weeks, Washington’s City Council will conduct its annual planning session, usually a two-day affair.
This year, it would be nice to see and hear someone other than city officials, the session facilitator and the media at the session. It’s open to the public. It’s always been open to the public. The session provides the average taxpayer a chance to, if nothing more, see how city officials begin their work toward developing policies and budgets to implement those policies.
It’s better for city officials to receive public input early in the process of developing policies and budgets instead of at the end of that development process. Failure to provide input for such matters is akin to failing to vote. If you don’t vote, you shouldn’t complain about what elected officials do. You were given a chance to make your voice heard but didn’t use it.
Then there’s the old saying about the squeaky wheel getting the grease. Unless someone makes the case for the city to spend money on a specific project or not spend money on that project, the person making the case for the other side stands a better chance of getting that grease for his or her squeaky wheel.
Although the city holds a public hearing on its proposed budget each year, that hearing usually is conducted toward the end of the budget-preparation process when the proposed spending plan is almost a done deal. And it’s a good thing to have that public hearing. But someone who participates earlier in the budget-preparation process likely will have a better chance for his or her input to influence the budget.
The council uses the planning session to inform the city manager, department heads and other city employees about items that council members want to address in the coming months. The council also uses the planning session to receive input from the city manager, department heads and other city employees when it comes to the resources the city has or may have to help the council accomplish its goals.
The planning session also initiates the effort that culminates, usually, around the end of June with a new budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Although the planning session is an event where council members, the city manager and department heads roll up their sleeves, sharpen their pencils and plunge into their work, outside input is welcome. It’s a rare occurrence when city residents attend the planning session, but it does happen.
Granted, residents can’t just interrupt the session and offer advice anytime they feel like doing so. But if a resident has something to say, the council will listen. And residents must remember that sometimes asking for something and getting it means there is a price to pay.
Washington residents can’t expect five council members and the mayor to have all the solutions to all the problems in the city. Expecting that is a bit unrealistic. By asking for input from the city’s residents, the council is tapping into one of the city’s vital assets — its people.
The people who live, work and play in Washington are best suited to help make it a better place to live. Who better to know what the city needs and wants than those who live in Washington?
Once the dates of the planning session are announced, we urge Washington residents to do more than just circle those dates on their calendars. They should show up and voice their wants and needs — and how they believe the city should go about meeting those wants and needs.
The City Council should listen to those residents. After all, it’s their city.