If Hampstead's elected officials continue to thumb their collective noses at the town residents, they will only encourage behavior that is even more contemptuous than what they have been witnessing at recent town council and planning commission meetings. Losing the respect of residents can be a destructive downward spiral.
The recent disrespectful and disruptive behavior of the audience at town council meetings is a manifestation of some residents' belief that elected officials are not listening to their concerns. In the past two months, the council and the planning commission have made important decisions without hearing public comment until after the bodies had acted.
The most recent outburst occurred last Tuesday night when the council refused to approve Councilman Wayne Thomas' resolution seeking a court test of the town's adequate facilities ordinance. Mr. Thomas wanted the town to seek a writ of mandamus -- basically a court order telling a government agency to do its job.
Mr. Thomas wanted the order to force the town's Planning and Zoning Commission to follow the mandates of the adequate public facilities lawin approving new subdivisions. While the town council and its lawyers discussed the resolution, the public had no opportunity to comment before the vote.
Virtually every democratically elected legislative body allows some type of public comment before voting on a measure.
While Hampstead's council may not prohibit public discussion during its meetings, it has done little to encourage it, either.
It is time for the town council to rethink its policy of having all public comment at the end of its meetings rather than at the appropriate point when a matter is under consideration.
As it is now, all comments come after the fact, which makes the process of public participation meaningless and hollow.
When the public has no opportunity for meaningful input into the legislative system, it is natural for the less controlled members of the community to resort to jeers, catcalls and other disruptive behavior.
Hampstead officials may not want to hear from the public, but townspeople have every right to demand to be heard.