Too often in city politics the scene is one of emptiness — the meeting chambers, that is. All too often city council meetings, parks board meetings and planning and zoning commission meetings go unattended or just plain unnoticed.
Lately, that has not been the case in the area. Meeting rooms have been filled to capacity and residents have made sure their voices have been heard. Take for example what’s happening in Melissa. While I don’t normally cover Melissa council meetings (Bryan Heath and Ken Gaidziunas have covered this beat) I have sat in on a few. And Melissa is no different than many other cities I’ve worked in — McKinney included — in which I can count the total number of gallery seats filled on one hand. I’ve covered a few of these Melissa council meeting in the past and never seen more than seven total people in the audience at a given time.
But raise the ire of the people and they will make themselves heard. This has happened in Melissa with Fitzhugh Creek Villas, a proposed affordable apartment living development. Residents object to the development on several fronts; lack of prior notification of public hearings, overcrowding in the schools, location of the project and the ability of the emergency service providers to handle an influx of new residents among other things. A council meeting held on Feb. 28 that drew a monster crowd to Melissa City Hall. There was, literally, nowhere to sit in the crowded meeting chamber and even the anteroom outside was five-deep, standing-room only.
The residents who spoke out on the subject during the public hearing that night — and there were dozens of them who seized the opportunity — were passionate. No matter what side of the aisle you’re on regarding this issue it was great to see the citizenry getting involved.
I’ve seen the same thing happening north of Cardinal Country in Van Alstyne. Actually, turnout in Van Alstyne for its council meetings has been strong for as long as I’ve been at the helm of the Van Alstyne Leader and The Anna-Melissa Tribune. Of late, an often-times heated debate over the city’s water rate billing has boiled over and packed council meeting room seats.
As a journalist, a well-informed public is at the top of my wish list. The fact that residents in our communities are more informed than ever means that they are reading the newspaper, texting each other and talking on Facebook. It’s a trend I hope continues.