There’s something wonderful about a well-run meeting.
That’s a bit of a nerdy thing to say, but I’ve attended hundreds of meetings for school boards, county government and the occasional city council since I began reporting, starting in Brookings, SD, in 2014.
Sioux Center is a place that prides itself on its innovation and forward-thinking outlook, but one area in which the city is lacking are its meetings.
Admittedly, this is all small in the grand scheme of themes, but I do think a few changes could greatly improve many of the local government meetings, the Sioux Center City Council in particular.
In Brookings, every meeting was filmed and made available online, typically posted to YouTube, within a day or two. This included the city council meetings, the county commission meetings and even the school board. For them, it was an easy step for these groups to take so that they could say they were open and transparent in their work.
We live in a digital age, and filming is an easy enough task. It doesn’t require expensive, fancy equipment if the number of churches that utilize some basic means of recording their services are any indication.
In addition to claims of transparency, filming all meetings provides citizens with another means of having access to the meetings.
Given the oddball scheduling that the Sioux Center City Council uses for setting the times and dates for its meetings, filming them would ensure that regardless of any member of the public’s schedule, they could have at least one means of watching the whole meeting for themselves.
One of the most baffling things the city council here has done is the way they’ve organized its meeting room.
For those unfamiliar with the council’s meeting room, it has two main portions — a seating area for the public, with ample chairs and ahead of that is a set of four tables and accompanying chairs, all pushed together and facing each other.
The layout results in all city officials facing each other rather than the public they serve. It’d be nice to have a clear view of all the city staff (and who is speaking) rather than just the back of the city attorney’s head.
Think about the symbolic message this unintentionally sends: that this is a group more concerned about its own members than the public in the same room. It’s as if the public are to be mere spectators rather than equal participants in city government.
This wouldn’t be much of an issue if they at least had microphones to help amplify the voices of those at the table. As it is, the voices around only really carry to each other, and not well to those in the audience beyond them.
Would it really take that much work to get a few long tables and to line them up against one of the room’s longer walls?
The city council doesn’t even have a proper designated place or podium for the public to stand when someone comes to bring up an issue or make a comment.
I’ve only had to attend a handful of Sioux Center City Council meetings but regularly attend Hawarden City Council meetings. From my experience so far, in every way the Hawarden City Council outshines Sioux Center’s in its ability to manage meetings with an eye toward the needs of the public.
They film and post every meeting, have a place at the front of the audience seats for presenters to stand and speak into a microphone, the city officials’ seats are wrapped around in a U-shape so that everyone can clearly see them and they utilize microphones so everyone’s voice is clearly heard throughout the room.
As a reporter and a community member, I know which meeting I’d rather attend.