How committees work and how a citizen can be heard by their government

Much of the frustration that citizen voters experience comes from a feeling that they are not being heard. While they are righteous in their indignation in many ways there is a portion of the frustration that comes from a misunderstanding of the political process and where the actual work of politics is done. Committees.

Committees are where the action happens. For those who are interested in the nuts and bolts of policy making committee work is fascinating. To others not so much because it is easy to get turned off by long testimonials and obvious verbal manipulations by stakeholders and special interests. I have been to committee meetings where I felt like I needed some very tall rubber boots to wade through all the b.s. being tossed around. However that is all just part of the process.

When a citizen understands that this is where the work is done and understands how to input their thoughts into shaping policy it can become addictive. Even if the final draft of a bill doesn’t go the way that citizen wanted they tend to have a better understanding about why it didn’t go their way. With some changes in approach this can lead to further future action or an understanding and acceptance of the decisions made. It is certainly much more peaceful and satisfying feeling than disenfranchisement.

What is a committee and how do they work?

A committee is a smaller group of members from the larger legislative body that meets at a different time and place to discuss issues of a particular nature. With local government committees or boards can be made up of volunteers from the community or organization. Things work differently on the Federal and State level those committees are formed from members of the legislative body primarily from people who have expertise and background in a particular field or because of political power of a committee.

So how do committees work and more importantly how can an “everyday citizen” work a committee? The answer is similar to a previous post about The best way to contact elected officials to get positive results. It is important to be informed about a topic, to be courteous and polite, to be brief and concise with one’s comments and also to take the time to share one’s personal experience with the committee about the issue at hand.

It is up to a citizen to do some research of their own to understand how committees work on a local level. In Mesa, Arizona U.S.A. where I live many committees for the city are volunteer boards where citizens with a level of expertise or experience in an area are able to submit an application to be considered to serve on a board. I was chosen to be Chair of the Human Services Board which oversees funding for non-profits which benefit those in need in the community.

Community Leadership

I was able to achieve this position by volunteering previously for non-profits, attending Mesa Leadership Training and Development which taught me about the inter workings of the city and how it runs. And my experience in a moderate income neighborhood gave me the background I needed to be considered for the Board and was fortunate in my second year to be voted Chairperson. I highly recommend that all citizens take time to volunteer on a board they are interested in. It often is not too much of a time commitment and really is a satisfying feeling to help out the community and have your opinion seriously considered regarding important decision-making areas.

Whether it is a city, non-profit or other type of board does not matter. What matters most is that it is a subject you’re passionate about and that the personalities of the board make it enjoyable and satisfying overall to participate.

Many communities have their own community leadership groups which can be found on the internet. Each group has its own criteria and process so do a little web surfing and see how your community does things. It is good to know. It is also good to know how to contact each committee and to see the agenda of their public meetings so that you can attend and contribute at a time when your opinion can count in the decision-making process.

Public Planning and Zoning Meetings

In many places it is part of the legal process of planning and zoning to have public meetings before a business opens or development takes place on land. However, these types of meetings are rarely attended by the citizens they impact. It is our responsibility as citizens to be more involved in these processes. Many times there are many opportunities to add intelligent dialog to the conversation yet a person must attend the event to be heard.

Attending the Gallery

Many state houses offer gallery seating to watch the proceedings of legislature. They also have committee meetings and a process for requesting to speak at such meetings. That is the time to have your opinion heard and marked on the record. In Arizona there is also an option to have your opinion recorded in the minutes of the committee hearing without needing to speak. It is all about what you feel comfortable doing and how familiar you are with the topic at hand.

Take the time to learn how your system of government works and when meetings are taking place to decide important decisions for your community. Be part of the process, you’ll be glad you did!

Next time I will give you tips to successfully prepare for a presentation and address a committee about your topic of choice. If you have a question or topic suggestion please email it to sophiawrites@yahoo.com.

Until then,
Sophia Tesch

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