In early July, the Carmel City Council switched from holding virtual meetings back to holding meetings inside the council chambers at City Hall.
Residents wanting to speak at a public hearing must do so in person. However, because of social-distancing requirements, seating is very limited. Also, because the coronavirus pandemic is still very much with us, many residents who would have otherwise spoken at recent public hearings have stayed home due to legitimate health concerns.
Multiple requests have been made to the council to allow brief written statements to be emailed in advance and then read aloud by a neutral party at public hearings. At this time, the council is unwilling to permit this.
The current arrangement clearly favors the developers and their paid representatives, who attend and speak at the public hearings as usual. But the residents in opposition to development proposals are now under-represented. The effect of filling the council chambers with opponents is not possible, and many voices are not heard. The news media cannot report on the true strength of the opposition, because they cannot see and hear it directly.
Yes, citizens can still call and email city councilors. But the only way for citizen comments to be publicly heard and entered into the public record is to speak at a public hearing, and that has become problematic. Also, there is no way to even track or read emails from the public to council, unlike for the plan commission.
Most of the incumbent councilors likely prefer the current setup, because it limits the collective voice in opposition to the many high-intensity development projects being proposed in residential areas that the council so routinely approves.
The city council will not be motivated to change this system unless the public applies pressure. Please let councilors know that during this pandemic, you support the idea of allowing brief written statements from residents to be read aloud by a neutral party at all public hearings.
Dave Fox, Carmel