This web site is the brainchild of Cindy Harris. Our family has lived in O’Hara Township since 2001 in a quiet neighborhood in District 2, Ward 2. A series of rather curious events brought me to an abrupt awareness that I knew absolutely nothing about how our Township was governed. And even though I religiously voted in every election, I knew almost nothing about the people who were doing the governing. So in April of 2009, I began attending Township Council meetings to see what I could learn.
What I learned was that democratic government in O’Hara Township wasn’t really all that democratic, primarily because only a handful of residents showed up for Council meetings on a regular basis. But even those who attended regularly were only marginally informed. Ordinances were read and approved by Council without text being available to the public at the meeting. Public hearings generally lasted no longer than ten minutes even for interesting topics like alternative energy ordinances and an ordinance to regulate gas well drilling in the Township because no effort was made to publicize them beyond the required minimum notice in our obscure (and little read) local newspaper. “Administrative actions” such as installing cameras at traffic lights throughout the Township were approved with little discussion of relevant social issues. In fact, Council members rarely discussed important details of the ordinances and issues presented to them during meetings, and even when they did, residents in attendance had no access to the documents being discussed so could not offer any useful input.
Once I realized that there was no effort being made to encourage citizen involvement and disseminate useful information, I began to speak up at Council meetings. In part as a result of my ongoing encouragement towards more open government, the Township web site was recently upgraded, and the Township Manager joined the Nixle network. But although the web site was cosmetically improved, the content was not upgraded, and it is still too difficult for the average person (or even myself) to locate important content. And Nixle has not been used to inform subscribers of more than an occasional change in trash pickup, nor has there been a strong push to encourage residents to subscribe.
After the Council passed one too many ordinances regulating (or over-regulating or over-permitting) controversial and important topics and twice appointed individuals who had not attended a Council meeting (or any other Township meeting that I am aware of) in at least two years to fill an open seat, I decided that I’d had enough. I’m a candidate myself for one of the two Council Member At Large seats in the May 2011 election. And win or lose, I will continue to attend O’Hara Township Council meetings and report here on the issues being considered. My goal is to quadruple average resident attendance at Council meetings by the end of 2012. You’d think that wouldn’t be difficult: average attendance over the last year has been somewhere between two and three “non-involved” residents per meeting. That’s the people who don’t have a particular purpose for being at the meeting but make it a point to come out to hear what the Council is discussing. If only one percent of residents attended two or three meetings per year, I’d be wildly successful. But I’ll settle for seeing eight residents at every meeting, especially if it’s not always the same eight residents.
Wish me luck! And if you’d like to help, drop me a note.