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Barbara Faga's blog

A Guide to Taser-Free Public Meetings

 We all saw it on the Internet—the fellow at a public meeting being hauled away from the microphone before getting wrestled to the floor and tasered during a Q&A with John Kerry. Fortunately, silencing argumentative speakers with a taser is not a common occurrence at most public meetings. While I might confess that there have been meetings where, in retrospect, one might have secretly wished one was armed with a stun gun, facilitators generally try to avoid confrontation. Yet there’s no denying that sometimes people show up at public meetings looking for a fight, begging for outrage, and hoping to irritate and inflame.

'Civic Theater' at Its Best

Like many others, I tuned into the CNN/YouTube debate a few weeks ago. As a firm believer in citizen involvement, to the point of recently writing a book* full of case studies of public process in action, I found CNN’s broadcast of real people with real questions in real time to be utterly fascinating. The public taking hold of technology, influencing candidates with their frank questions, and getting answers that sounded less scripted and on message—it was a sight to see. YouTubers’ questions of the nine Democratic candidates were succinct and to the point. And no, I did not hear the other 3,000 submitted questions, but the ones that aired on live TV were brilliant. Anderson Cooper even quipped that it might be the end of newscasters.

A Tale of Two Public Processes

Over the last few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to attend public meetings in Europe and the American South. I find public meetings to be an entertaining challenge. Let’s face it, a public meeting is always a gamble. You’re at the mercy of whoever shows up and whatever they perceive about the project. You have to think on your feet and make quick decisions to guide the process, without looking like I’m-in-control-here-Alexander-Haig. 

Pulling Up Stakes On The 'Good Old Days'

The 1950’s and 1960’s were boom times for planning and building in the northeastern United States. Projects were designed and built seemingly overnight. For those who idolize Edmund Bacon (Philadelphia's director of city planning from 1949 to 1970) and Robert Moses (New York City’s master builder from 1924 to 1968), that was the time to plan and design and implement and build --quickly.