Rehoboth public input process needs review
Upon reflection after the special meeting of Nov. 5, I believe we, the Rehoboth Beach Board of Commissioners, short-circuited the public input process. I understand that many citizens were disappointed when, after over an hour of discussion among the commissioners regarding a garden proposed by the Rehoboth Beach Sister Cities Association, a vote was taken without allowing public input. I believe such disappointment is justified.
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) does not require a public body to allow the public to speak, but it has been our practice to do so. FOIA also mandates that if one person is allowed to speak, then all that want to speak shall be offered the same opportunity. While we did not violate FOIA we did not, in my opinion, adequately invite public input during the meeting. Equally important to note is that additionally, we did not acknowledge any correspondence received since the previous meeting on this topic.
These omissions raise questions as to how we can improve public engagement at meetings. Also, what is the policy on acknowledging correspondence received that is directed at an agenda topic? Surely, at the least, correspondence should be acknowledged. But beyond that should it be read in entirety or summarized?
Additionally, the omission of not acknowledging correspondence relative to the proposed garden lends to more questions. Does such correspondence become part of the official meeting record/minutes? Or are the letters merely retained by the individual commissioner recipients and do not become a part of the public record?
The city communications committee currently is examining how to better engage the public during meetings and will present a report soon; how to handle correspondence is not yet on the committee “to do” list, but this situation may prompt discussion. A review by the commissioners concluding with written policies would benefit all and provide a set of expectations for the handling of public input and correspondence.
My apologies to all who took the time to communicate their views on the proposed garden via letter and to those who attended the meeting in anticipation of being afforded time to voice their opinions in person and were ignored. We can do better.
City of Rehoboth Beach