The former proponents of the recall attempt against Mayor Alan Galbraith confronted him with anger on Jan. 22, and the mayor responded with facts.

It seemed like nobody walked away happy.

It was the first in a series of two to four meetings, with the next one scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 3, at the American Legion Hall. In his letter announcing the negotiated end of the recall, retired Judge Scott Snowden wrote that these meetings “will fully address the public-information concerns that were at the foundation of (the recall proponents’) efforts.”

By that standard, the meeting was a success – the mayor provided accurate data and analysis of the city’s water rates, and he was as well-prepared as always. But in terms of allaying the underlying resentment that was at the heart of the recall, the meeting was perhaps bound to be a disappointment.

Town hall meetings are a great idea in concept, but our board was dismayed at how much anger there was at this one. Snowden and Galbraith did what they could to keep things civil and fact-based, but there was an awful lot of venting – some of it based on faulty assumptions and some of it directed against poor governance that occurred decades before Galbraith even moved to town.

We have a few ideas on how to make future meetings more constructive. First, there needs to be a larger, more comfortable venue – maybe the firehouse or Vintage Hall. Space and crowd size permitting, chairs could be arranged in a circle to provide a less adversarial feel.

The format could be improved too. Maybe the former recall proponents could give Galbraith a list of questions and he could provide written responses, drawing upon the city’s own data. Those questions and answers could be printed on a handout and used as a factual framework for the discussion. City staff, such as the public works director or finance director, could be on hand to verify any disputed statistics.

That would depersonalize the issues at hand, ground the discussion in reality, and ensure that everyone is basing their opinions on the same facts – at least to the extent that’s possible in such a heated situation.

It would also be helpful if the participants consider their own objectives. Are they trying to change Galbraith’s mind? Are they trying to effect policy changes at the council level? Do they just want to be heard?

It wouldn’t have been realistic to expect the first meeting to be an unqualified success right out of the gate. We’re hopeful that a few tweaks might improve the next few meetings, but our former optimism has been tempered by the amount of anger that was on display among Galbraith’s critics, even over the same issues that were exhaustively vetted by the Ad Hoc Utility Rate Committee.

These meetings feel like a Band-Aid that’s bound to fall off sooner or later. When it does, we’ll need to start a more permanent, ongoing, fact-based dialogue if we’re ever going to heal this gaping wound in our community.

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