“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does.” — Margaret Mead
The quote above is one of my favorites. And Tuesday, we got an opportunity to see it happen.
It started with a phone call that I received Monday morning. Yes, I’m on the city’s email list so I got a copy of the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting. The email, unlike the copy on the city’s website, doesn’t contain hyperlinks to the supporting documents. (Which makes no sense, in my opinion.) So I just scanned the email and went on with my day. Someone who didn’t receive their email decided to go online and look at the agenda. When she saw the rather undescriptive mention of the charter changes in Public Hearing 4, she decided to look at the documents. What she saw prompted her to make several phone calls, including one to me.
Once I looked at the documents, I put up a post about the proposed changes and sent emails with a link to it. I also made a few calls. But it wasn’t just me. Once the information was out there, it went viral. Emails flew fast and furious through the various communities of interest. The Virginian-Pilot posted an article on PilotOnline, which was printed in Tuesday morning’s paper.
No doubt there were numerous emails and phone calls to members of council. So many, in fact, that by the time they met in the informal session (I call it the meeting before the meeting), the mayor had already decided that the charter changes related to recall and petition should be voted down. Here’s a brief synopsis of that session that was sent to me, as I was unable to attend:
Mayor started by saying that there is a “great deal of confusion about what we are trying to do “( PH-4 charter changes). He appreciated how the community could be upset but the “City Attorney threw us under the bus by being pro-active after a 5 or 15 minute discussion earlier”. “Lot of misunderstanding in the community. Let’s put this to bed and vote no on the referendum and recall changes. Then he asked the City Attorney “if we vote no can we bring up in say a year?” The City Attorney’s answer was you don’t have to wait any period of time before you can bring it up again. Dr Whibley was very impressed with the number of people who read our agenda and responded. Mayor also had some concerns about a small group of people who could form a recall for any reason whatsoever. These proposed changes “just jumped through the system”
When I arrived for the formal session, the group gathered was not as large as I had hoped, but given the shortness of the time frame, it was a good crowd. It was interesting to watch as people mingled and introduced themselves to each other. Nearly every person present had come to speak on this one agenda item. One woman told me her mother had just come in for a visit that day but she told her that she had to come to council to speak against this. A total of 16 people (14 by the mayor’s count plus two others that somehow got lost in the mix) signed up to speak. Despite the mayor opening the meeting with an apology for the way these changes to the charter had come about and a statement that council would be voting against them, nearly all of the 16 chose to speak and be heard. After the speakers were done, the council voted against the charter changes to recall and petition. (They voted in favor of the charter change for supplemental compensation for the director of the Department of Public Health.)
The people won Tuesday. There were no Democrats or Republicans – just Norfolk citizens who wanted what is best for our city. A very big thank you to all who participated in any way in making this happen. My faith in the power of citizen involvement got a pretty big boost.
And a very special thank you to the person who actually read the links and alerted us to the problem. Without her, none of this would have happened.