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Effective Communication Might Mean Less is More

There's a narrative in the county that everybody gets wrong, including me. That myth gets debunked today.

You'll hear it more often in election cycles but it's only a matter of time with this new commission before somebody says, “we need more communication!” I've been guilty of this too.

I'm changing my mind. Rather, I'm aiming to be a bit more precise. It's an incomplete sentence. What we need isn't more communication, it's more effective communication. The lack of effective communication even in the abundance of it is exactly what frustrates me about the proposal debate.

At the first business meeting of the new board, new Chairman Ruthie Schlabach proposed cutting the first open to the public portion from the meetings. A couple of things need to be established before we get into the proposal itself.

The first is that, as Commissioner Diana Finnegan astutely pointed out, this would require a change of county ordinance which is more significant than just a modification to a meeting agenda.

Second, we must recognize the importance of giving people at least one opportunity to speak. The open to the public portion at the beginning of the meeting can range from a couple of minutes to several hours and all of this usually happens before the meeting begins in earnest. Only once in my six years of watching commission meetings have I seen no one utilize this first opportunity.

But we must disabuse ourselves of the dichotomous thinking that has arisen from the proposal. To put it another way, to be against the proposal is not the same thing as being for keeping things the way they are. The two can coexist.

You can at the same time both be against this idea of cutting it completely and for a change in the meeting format. And I believe that is where most of the commission is even if the majority of the speakers in the meeting were for no change at all.

Here's where we come back to effective communication being the right narrative instead of more communication. Numerous speakers providing more communication spoke against the proposal, and I'm not indifferent to their concern, but their arguments need to make sense and they don’t yet.

For example, the commission speculated that a 3:30 p.m. time-certain open to the public would be better than at the beginning of the meeting which is not time-certain and the prevailing argument from the public was that people show up to speak during their lunch break from work. I just don't see it. To me, the 3:30 time-certain would be easier for those who work rather than at the start of the meeting which depending on the opening agenda could be anywhere from 1:15 to almost 2:00.

It wasn’t the only complaint. The lunch break argument would sometimes give way to the first amendment debate. Opponents of the proposal tried to frame it as infringement on their rights.

The Republican-led Florida legislature is currently considering proposals to limit some protesting inside the Capitol lobby, much less ready to give you 3 minutes on the House floor.

Local government does have a moral responsibility to be more accessible to its constituents, but the fact that you can't march into the US Senate Chambers and start airing your grievances is not a first amendment violation nor would this change to our government proceedings be.

Here's what makes this stuff hard. I agree with the public ideologically but disagree with any of the reasoning logically so far. Therefore, even though I agree with leaving it unchanged, I don't see the harm in at least exploring all options as the commission diplomatically did last Tuesday.

Unfortunately, not even the Chronicle sees it that way. A weird Sunday editorial lambasted the execution of the plan proposal. If that was doing it wrong, I would hate to see what doing it right looks like.

I started the Concurrent because there were times when it felt like I was living in an alternate reality from the events the Chronicle commentary section painted. Sunday was another example of that. The paper added to the communication surrounding the issue, but just like the public’s arguments, it seemed to be a blatant misunderstanding of the situation.

I agree with the public and the Chronicle in principle opposing the proposal, but I’ve yet to agree with them in arguments or assessments. The debate right now, just like some commission meetings, is full of more communication, but not effective communication. A change is needed.


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