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Becoming Involved in Your Community

Community Meetings and How they Work

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Becoming Involved in Your Community
The Legislative Branch
Becoming Involved in Your Community
Community meetings are an important way that the citizens of a locality can have their voice heard. Any resident can ask that a meeting be held, whether by approaching their local city council members, their mayor, or by going to an open forum at city council meetings and raising the issue.

Once a public hearing is held and the residents let their city council know their feelings on a topic, the council then passes a motion. Their decision will be based on the discussion during the hearing, as well as information they have obtained through consultants on the costs and benefits of a proposed measure.

Becoming informed about local events in your community can help you become more involved. Local papers will publish notices of hearings several days before they are held, and they will also publish articles about local issues that affect the community residents. If local elections for city council are held, you can learn about the candidates through reading their opinions in the paper, listening to the local news station, and by discussion with others.

Another important part of our civic duty is participation, at whatever level is best for each individual. This can be through volunteer work, through involvement in local organizations and clubs, or through actions which help promote good relations in your area.

Community Meetings and How they Work

At the local level, many cities have provided a way to allow local residents to direct their concerns and issues. While this may vary slightly from place to place, in general this is how it is set up.

Most city councils will hold an open forum of some type at the beginning of their meeting. A resident of their city will be asked to sign up ahead of time, to be given time to speak. During the forum each person will be given a limited amount of time (such as three minutes) to bring up the issue that concerns them and why they would like to see a public meeting held.

Afterwards, the city council will discuss the item, and may decide to hold a public hearing on the issue. They must also by law hold public hearings in their communities on issues such as zoning, the city budget, the local census, and some items covered by federal and state grants. A hearing can also be proposed by a private citizen to a city council member or the mayor, who may then decide to hold an open hearing.

The hearing must be published and announced at least 72 hours ahead of time. During the meeting, citizens are encouraged to come and address their opinion on the topic under discussion, but they will probably be limited under rules set up with a time limit of several minutes for each person. This is to ensure that a large number of opinions can be heard. After discussion in the public hearing, the city council will then make a decision based on what they have heard, and what they believe the residents want.

Sometimes, a public hearing is held only after the city first investigates facts about an issue. For instance, local residents may want to start curbside recycling in their community. Before holding a public hearing on this topic, the city may hire outside consultants and do research on factors such as the cost of initiating this type of service, and estimates on how much it would raise the monthly garbage pickup service for residents, as well as the benefits of initiating the service. They would then be able to discuss these facts and answer questions that the residents would have during the hearing.

Once the hearing is held, and the council comes to a decision, they will then pass a motion that will put the new practice into local law. Sometimes, a motion needs two readings, and is actually passed in what is known as a "consent agenda" after first being passed after hearing discussion.

Hearings are a way that local citizens can have their voice heard, and where they can learn about issues that affect them and their community.

Current Events: Becoming Informed about Local Issues that Affect You

As you begin participating in your local community, you will want to become informed about issues that affect you and others in your community. There are several ways that this can be done, including reading your local newspaper, which will often have articles that highlight local events and community meetings. You may also want to ask area residents about your local community's history, because events in the past often have a bearing on the present.

There are often pages or part of a page in the local newspaper dedicated to such things as reporting land purchases, certain legal announcements, and plans for building. There may also be announcements of hearing by the local commissions in charge of building, or the local school board. Often open hearings are announced, which all members of the community can attend. And you have the right to propose a local hearing in your community if there is an issue that concerns many citizens, such as a proposed change in land development in your area. Or, there may be a need in your community that affects many residents that needs to be addressed in a hearing.

You can also become informed through discussion with others in your community. This can mean asking questions, and also finding out if your community has a representative or special interest group that represents your concerns in your city. For example, many larger cities will have Hispanic, Asian, or African American and other councils that work as a liaison for a certain group in the community, with meetings and informational brochures on topics of interest to inform members.

These councils may also have information on how to obtain health care; bilingual issues, and even have liaisons who will meet with parents and teachers if there is a language barrier in the school system. They may also provide opportunities for business members to network with one another in the area. Many groups such as this also provide scholarships for young people who want to go to college, and leadership training for those with the desire to learn to lead others.

Learning about voting and political advocacy are also functions of these groups, who seek to help inform members about life in their community and local issues.

Contributing to your Community: Volunteer Work, Organizing efforts to help represent needs in the Community

Community service is an important part of citizenship. It means becoming involved in your community as a participating member, whether through volunteer work or joining local organizations and clubs. For instance, many communities have organization such as the local Red Cross, which needs volunteers to help, especially during times of difficulty such as floods or emergencies. They also need volunteers willing to learn and teach First Aid and CPR.

Most community also have homeless shelters and food banks that welcome help from volunteers. This can become a way of participating and feeling part of your community.

Schools often need mentors, and big sister and big brother programs welcome adults willing to be role models to youth who are at risk. Often hospitals have volunteer organizations with opportunities to help in gift shops, in the nursery, or other areas.

Often advocacy groups are a way to begin becoming involved in your community. For instance, in Weatherford, Texas, there was a large group of Hispanic parents who were concerned because they were unable to speak English well enough to understand their children's teachers during parent-teacher conferences. Many also had difficulty understanding slips their children brought home from school. In answer, several of the parents decided to form a local committee to represent the needs of the Hispanic parents in the school system. Several bilingual parents joined and volunteered their services as translators during parent-teacher conferences, and a member of the local school board who was Hispanic joined as well. During meetings, he and others in the community would help inform parents about issues affecting their children in the schools.

This committee also gave parents information about local scholarship funds, and information on helping their children do well in school.

By volunteering their time, parents were able to help their children and other parents with their relationship with the local school districts.

Each individual will have to decide for themselves the amount of civic participation that they want to be involved with. Whether it is being a good neighbor, joining a local club, doing volunteer work, joining a local business association, or going to town meetings and hearings, it is important to learn about your community and how you can help out and influence decisions at the community level. You can even become involved in local political campaigns, since political parties often depend on volunteers at the local level. This will help you become an active member of the political party that you support, and give you some amount of influence in the politics in your area.
The Legislative Branch
Becoming Involved in Your Community
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