COLUMN: Public participation key to our city

Matt Algarin
Matt Algarin

For the better part of my time with The Destin Log, I’ve been covering city government, which means attending countless meetings and workshops, mostly after 5 p.m.

Depending on the topic at hand, these meetings draw anywhere between five to 10 attendees besides me and a few others who attend almost every meeting. To be honest, that number is closer to five than it is to double digits.

I was pleasantly surprised on a recent Monday night when more than two dozen people gathered at the City Hall Annex to participate in a discussion about occupancy limits for short term rentals.

The dialogue was diverse and quality suggestions were voiced. Too bad this isn’t the norm though.

It’s very disheartening to see the lack of attendance and participation in our local government meetings. These are the avenues available for public input and discussion. At no other level of government do decisions more immediately impact people than those of local governments.

Whether it’s lack of time or not enough interest, I’m not quite sure why people choose not to attend and actively participate. Instead of attending meetings where discussions are held and decisions made, it’s becoming more and more common for people to spout off and share their thoughts on social media.

This isn’t a news flash. But imagine the different viewpoints that could be shared if these discussions took place where the decisions were actually made.

On any given story that involves development, growth or traffic we post on our Facebook page, there are easily 50-plus comments. Some of the conversation is good, while other parts leave a bit to be desired.

I have found that the majority of those who comment on our social sights are Destin residents with a passion for their community. I applaud them for that.

It hasn’t been the case with councils in the past, but the newly seated council has a few faces that use social media to share what’s going on throughout the city.

While they may peruse The Log’s Facebook page for chatter, the majority of the council does not and that’s why its important to call or email our city leaders or attend meetings to make sure your voice is heard.

It’s easy to sit behind a computer screen or a smart phone and pour your soul into a status update or a tweet sharing your disdain or support for a project. While your online friends may agree with you and a lively debate could take place, it usually doesn’t leave that small circle.

As a community, we should strive to make our city better in every way possible, whether it’s finding a solution to traffic and parking concerns or supporting reasonable, quality growth. Our voices and ideas matter.

If we want to be effective and bring about change, let’s change the way we think about sharing our thoughts and ideas.

If half the people that chose to only share their thoughts on social media turned out to a city council meeting or a public workshop, imagine the dialogue that could take place.

For a full schedule of city meetings, see www.cityofdestin.com.