For three years now, I have spent every Wednesday evening at Tooele City Hall. I have sat in the city council chambers for countless hours and listened to council meetings and city planning commission meetings.
It has been a very interesting time, partly because I actually enjoy public meetings. I find them much more interesting than American Idol. Civic meetings are real reality shows.
With some staff changes and reshuffling of assignments among our editorial staff, I have picked up the county beat. So now I will spend more time at the county building and bid farewell to city hall.
Wednesday night I sat through my first Tooele County planning commission meeting and found myself wondering if I had been traded down from the rich city folk to spend more time with my poor country cousins.
Now, take no offense here, Tooele County people, I love you all, but even Tooele’s Cinema 6 has upgraded its seating.
You see, during the occasional lull in action at a city meeting, I would take time to observe the opulence of the city council chambers. While starkly adorned, the room is large and expansive. There is a large elevated platform behind which the elected officials and city staff sit while the public — those few hardy souls who remain for an entire meeting — sit in fixed seats with cushioned bottoms and arms.
The city council chambers have a large projector that puts visual presentations in front of the audience while the council members have screens hidden in their desks that they can use to view the presentation. This room was obviously designed for public meetings by somebody who had participated in a public meeting.
Contrast this with my first experience at a county planning commission meeting.
Now I admit this experience may be skewed by the 100 people that showed up to testify for or against changing the noise ordinance to allow the Stansbury High School marching band to start practice outdoors and out loud at 6 a.m. But the meeting was held at the building formerly known as the county courthouse in what is referred to as the “auditorium,” which is a large room with chairs.
The planning commission was at the front of the room seated at tables running perpendicular to the public. Across the room, the county planning staff was seated at another table also perpendicular to the audience. A screen was on the front wall between the two rows of tables and a ceilingmounted LCD projector displayed video on the screen.
I ended up in the back of the room. With all the rows of chairs and people in front of me, I couldn’t see the planning commission. The room began to heat up — a problem that had obviously been dealt with before. A large fan stood on a stand on top of the kitchen counter on one side of the room. As the room got warm, a staff member came back and turned on the fan. Nice, I thought.
Then I realized that with the noise of the fan, I couldn’t hear the commission. Not being able to see or hear isn’t good for reporting. I moved to the front and people learned that microphones worked best when they are pointed towards the mouth of the person speaking.
I kept thinking, maybe they could change planning commission meetings to Tuesday nights and see if the city would rent out their city council chambers to them.
Now I know the county is doing the best it can with what it has. The room arrangement was the optimal setting for what the facility had to offer, and I suspect large crowds are rare. But the contrast between the two facilities was striking.
The county building is older than city hall. The city, long before the current council, pledged the use of interest off of the proceeds from the sale of land at the UID to fund capital improvements, such as the city hall, in the name of economic development.
The county, long before the current commissioners, invested mitigation fees to build the Deseret Peak Complex, also for economic development and to fill a need in the county.
I guess as long as they keep my taxes low, I can tolerate a less than comfortable meeting room once a month.