Reflections from a community meeting


The city councilman for our district called the other day and asked if he could use the church of a community meeting. It seems that new development was being considered for a piece of property down the street from the church, and he wanted to hold a meeting between the developers and folks in the community. I try to be a good neighbor so I was happy to help him out.

The meeting was tonight. I wasn’t thrilled about going. I have the galloping crud running through my head. I’m tired. I’m sick. But I had made a commitment and so I went and hosted the group.

This is the third or fourth meeting of this type that I’ve attended, and it highlighted the highs and lows of the democratic system. Folks arrived, certain that the developers were out to get them. They were worried about drainage. They were worried about traffic. They were worried about property values dropping.

So, when the councilman opened the meeting, they were loaded for bear. The councilman outlined a process by which reasonable conversation could ensue. However, these folks didn’t want to be reasonable. They wanted to spout off all the reasons why the development was a bad idea. And they did so simultaneously, so that the councilman could barely get a word in edgewise.

It was quickly getting out of hand, and I started to speak as the host when the councilman started to preaching. He talked about the value of fairness, of listening, of allowing for due process. He affirmed everyone’s concerns, but held firm that we needed to follow a more definitive process. He was able to sooth the ruffled nerves, and get the conversation headed in the right direction.

Then the developer spoke. He was a slick man of action, ready to sell real estate or his 90 year old grandmother in the next minute. After talking with him later I discovered he was actually a pretty good guy. But he wouldn’t let folks interrupt him with questions and was opinionated on why the development should be build from his perspective. In some ways he answered questions, but he also ruffled some feathers which had to be dealt with at the end of the meeting.

The meeting lasted almost three hours. I would have probably lasted longer, but the councilman finally shared that he was voting to defer any action for 6 weeks or so. During that time, the developer and building will have to answer questions about the plans, and deal with drainage and traffic issues.

Father Tim, where are you now?

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