The following Editorial was published in the Finger Lakes Times (Geneva) on Sunday, May 10. Although the details are about events in or near Geneva, the messages universal. We publish it on the blog with permission of Managing Editor Mike Cutillo.
“No one commented at a public hearing preceding the meeting.” “ … during a public hearing at which no one spoke.”
Those phrases, or some that are very similar, have appeared on the pages of our newspaper quite a bit in recent months. Far too often, some would say.
Why so few people show up for public hearings that don’t involve landfills or clay mines or LPG storage or casinos is an ongoing game of guesswork in our newsroom.
Do taxpayers feel their voices won’t be heard? Has a widespread sense of apathy overtaken us? Are we that trusting of our government officials and the job they are doing?
In reality, it’s probably a combination of all three factors.
A couple of ongoing issues in the city and town of Geneva, both involving Hobart and William Smith Colleges, illustrate why it’s important to pay attention throughout the process.
While it was only a public forum, about 75 people crammed into the Geneva fire department’s bingo room on the last Monday in March to hear about a plan that proposed permanently closing part of Pulteney Street to motorized traffic. Most of those who attended were unhappy; some were downright outraged.
Less than three weeks ago, more than 100 people showed up at Town Hall for a public hearing on a solar farm HWS has proposed for land the Colleges owns between Hamilton Street and White Springs Lane. Again, the majority were opposed to the idea.
That’s where the similarities end.
City residents were told the portion of Pulteney Street between Hamilton and St. Clair streets would be closed no more than 18 months, coinciding with the construction of the HWS Performing Arts Center. A permanent shutdown had not been part of the discussion until this year.
Perhaps that’s part of the reason why, the day after the public forum, HWS officials announced they would no longer pursue what was being billed as a collaborative effort with the city.
The town, meanwhile, spent months drafting and adopting a law allowing solar energy developments. No one had shown up at any of the meetings or hearings to express concerns about a solar farm coming to their “backyard.”
As yet, the Colleges have not announced what they plan to do, but don’t be surprised if they forge ahead as planned. While the Pulteney Street idea caught many people by surprise, there has been no such secrecy with the solar farm. And HWS has gone through the proper channels to make it happen.
Had the naysayers weighed in from the beginning, we may not have reached this point. While we trust our elected officials to represent us to the best of their abilities, this should remind us that the best government is one in which everyone is involved.
The Finger Lakes Times Editorial Board includes Publisher Paul Barrett, Executive Editor Mike Cutillo, Managing Editor Chuck Schading, News Editor Alan Brignall and Chief Copy Editor Mary Schoonover.