Just last month, our Watauga County Chapter saw a problem. Their local county commission was holding public comments AFTER their meetings, meaning that local residents weren’t able to address what was being voted on until after the votes happened!
So our members organized to change this… and it worked!
Below, Watauga member Sarah Davis gives the play-by-play about how they organized to change the public comment period. Not to spoil her story, but it’s all about knowing how to break off little bite sized organizing chunks to build towards big organizing wins.
Just for this campaign, our Watauga members did a lot in a short period of time:
- They identified a problem and analyzed solutions
- Hosted a public comment training session for members
- Went to practice speaking at a town council meeting (then improved by debriefing it!)
- Held another training session so more people could be brought into the work
- Wrote letters to the editor of their local newspaper
- Emailed their county commissioners as part of a coordinated campaign
- Prepared public comments for the next meeting
- Spoke out at the county commission, laying out their solution to the problem
- Wrote follow-up emails to the commissioners
- Spoke out at county commission, again
- AND THEN THEY WON!
Read on for Sarah’s account…
Report back: Watauga County Public Comment Win
By Sarah Davis
Our organizing in Watauga County led us to the discovery that our County Commission held their public comment at the end of their meetings, after they had already addressed and voted on the agenda items.
The majority of local governments across the state hold it at the beginning, which affords the community a chance to voice their concerns prior to their elected officials enacting policies that directly impact them.
We addressed this by writing a letter to the editor advocating for the commissioners to hold public comment at the start of their meetings and advising them that we would be attending the next meeting to make this request in person.
Prior to the meeting on April 4, we emailed the commissioners requesting this change, and many of us had our friends and family do the same.
Our chapter gave a strong showing at the meeting, with a dozen of us speaking during public comment, and more of us there to indicate our support.
It was added to the agenda for the next meeting on April 18 as the very first item. This meeting was standing room only, as there were many in the community that had come to discuss how the changes at the Wellness Center would negatively affect them.
Not only was it passed unanimously, but they made it effective immediately and called for public comment to start directly after their vote.
After the meeting, one of the commissioners emailed us to let us know that our success in having the public comment moved had given those residents the time to speak, and have their cause added to the agenda for the next meeting. Not only was this a win for us, but we were able to witness the immediate positive impact our work had on our community as a whole.
Our next demand to the County will be at their May 16 meeting to request a minimum housing code for the county, since none currently exists, and an inspector to ensure that this code is met.
This is our first step in improving the current state of housing in our county, and having this initial success with public comment gives us an excellent foundation on which to build our future organizing efforts. After this win, we are ready to get the next (and bigger) one!
Down Home Watauga member