Later today I’ll be heading out to cover the public hearing on the proposed ocean DCPC for Cape Cod, and I will be bringing along a large cup of coffee, my steely resolve, and maybe a book to entertain me during the less interesting parts of the afternoon — which is to say, most of it.
I kid, of course, but I’m bracing for a formulaic forum: session opens, explanation of what’s going on is given, floor opens up to public comment, I die a little inside with each speaker who stands up and wastes an ungodly amount of time.
Especially with a controversial subject (offshore wind turbines), these hearings tend to be predictable and, really, unproductive affairs. I don’t deny an individual’s right to speak his mind on anything, especially something that stands to affect his quality of life, but good lord, people, have you absolutely no concept of how to get your point across without eating up half the day?
Let me help with these friendly suggestions:
1) For the love of all creatures great and small, BE BRIEF!
Quality over quantity, folks. Nattering on for 15 minutes doesn’t make you sound knowledgeable or informed; it bores people to tears. And why do so many potentially short, punchy, and effective addresses instead linger on interminably like the aftertaste of a cheap domestic beer?
2) Stay on topic
Let’s say the Cape Cod Commission is reviewing a proposal to build the world’s largest Chuck E. Cheese at the Bourne Rotary. They want to hear from people about what the impacts will be to traffic, the local economy, noise, etc. Half the speakers will rail about how unhealthy the pizza is, and keeping local kids healthy is a great reason to deny the project.
Let’s say the Cape Cod Commission wants to enact a regulation dictating where future Chuck E. Cheese franchises may be sited. The proposed regs require a minimum 1,000 foot setback from residential neighborhoods to mitigate the smell of yummy yummy pizza and prevent it from disturbing people. Half the people will bemoan the persistent smell of fresh tomato sauce with a balanced blend of Italian seasonings and whole-milk mozzarella cheese emanating from the nearby Domino’s — without ever noting how far away they live from the place or making any direct suggestions as to what a sufficient setback might be.
The point is, I could really go for a pizza right now.
Oh, yeah, and speakers should actually address the specific topic.
Now, about that pizza…
3) I said stay on topic!
Some years back I covered a Cape Cod Commission hearing on the Cape Cod Wind Farm. More specifically, it was a hearing on the submarine cables that would transmit power from the wind farm to the mainland. Installing this cable would disrupt the ocean floor upon which it was laid, the beach/wetland area where it would make landfall, and the residential streets it would be buried under until it reached an NStar substation.
The subcommittee asked speakers to address the issue of the cables directly; don’t talk about the wind farm, don’t be a Cape Wind cheerleader, don’t whine about how it’ll destroy Cape Cod, TALK ABOUT THE DAMN CABLES.
This is how one speaker approached that request:
“The wind farm — which is attached to the mainland by this cable — will create cheap renewable energy. The wind farm — which is attached to the mainland by this cable — is good for the environment. The wind farm — did I mention that it’ll be attached to the mainland by this cable? — will generate new jobs.”
No jive, that’s what he did. Yakked for 10 minutes and never once weighed in on the frickin’ cables.
4) Don’t be repetitive, redundant, repetitious, redundant, or say the exact same thing over and over with slight changes in the phrasing to make it sound like you’re not being repetitive.
Don’t be repetitive, redundant, repetitious, redundant, or say the exact same thing over and over with a degree of reiteration to make it sound as if you’re making a new point. It happens a lot, sometimes for emphasis — just in case folks didn’t get it the first five times — sometimes because people don’t pay attention to themselves while speaking.
5) Don’t be repetitive (but in a different way)
There’s something of an unwritten rule among reporters about public hearings: after the first five to 10 speakers, everything that can be said about a given subject has been said, and from that point on speakers will just hit those same talking points over and over. Diligent committee chairmen will ask people to instead submit their comments in writing if they have nothing new to add, so as to allow other people with fresh perspectives a chance at the mic, but that request is not often heeded.
6) It’s not storytime, dude…
Oh boy! The old guy is going to open with a joke or an amusing anecdote that has a vague connection to today’s topic! That’ll get stuff done double-quick!
7) Nor is it amateur night at “America’s Got Talent”
I can’t count how many times a person’s “testimony” has been delivered in the form of a poem or a song. Seriously. I’ve witnessed people performing original songs, complete with musical accompaniment (okay, a bad recording of music they played on an electric keyboard), do express their displeasure or delight with the wind farm. Dignity, people! Always dignity…
In the spirit of point number seven, I will close this post with a haiku:
Sign up to speak please; Don’t make me cut you off, sir; We’ll be here all night.