How to Make a Difference

How to Make a Difference
Posted on 01/01/2019

By Council Member Christine Mikell

I understand that the task of affecting real political change—even in our small, suburban city—can be daunting. Before being elected to the city council, I attended many government meetings where I didn’t speak up because I thought my comments would not be heard. But now, as a council member, I can say unequivocally that everyone who calls, emails or, in particular, speaks before the council absolutely makes a difference in how council members think, in our priorities and, ultimately, how our city is run. OK, you’re probably thinking, ‘I want to participate, but exactly how do I do that?’ In a few ways, actually.

Speak During the Public Comment Period: City council business meetings will be held in 2019 on Jan. 8 and 22 and during the remainder of the year on the first and third Tuesday of each month in the City Hall Council Chambers (2277 Bengal Blvd.) at 7 p.m. A portion of every business meeting is dedicated to a public comment period. During this time, citizens may speak to any topic or concern not scheduled for a vote. Fill out a comment card when you arrive; the Mayor will invite you to speak when it is your turn and you will then have three minutes to convey your ideas or concerns. Order and decorum are important aspects of this meeting and it is essential to respect all opinions and to not applaud, cheer or make background comments during the meeting. Council members do not respond during the public comment period—their role at that time is to listen, but a staff member is tasked with following up with anyone who asks questions or needs clarification on an issue.

A great example of the power of the public comment period process is Cottonwood Height’s Idle Free ordinance. A local Girl Scout troop, a group of mothers and several older residents all attended a business meeting to speak in favor of this ordinance. That diversity of support led to its unanimous passage by the council and our city being honored by Gov. Gary Herbert as being one of 70 Utah cities to be idle free.

Speak at a Public Hearing: Public hearings are another way citizens can address the council as a whole. These hearings immediately precede a vote on the business meeting agenda and are the final opportunity for public comment prior to the vote. I would, however, highly recommend that you voice your concerns on topics long before a public hearing. If you are unable to be at a meeting, you may send in a letter with your comments about an agenda item and this communication will be included as part of the record for the hearing. Additionally, the city council work session and business meetings are streamed live on YouTube and there is a link to this on our website. If you are unavailable to attend the meetings, you may view the items the city council is working on through this alternative resource.

Other Avenues for involvement: Other ways to participate include attending public meetings held by the multiple committees and commissions that provide valuable assistance on issues in our city or by joining one of these groups—Planning Commission, the Butlerville Days Committee, the Architectural Review Committee, Historic Committee, and the Parks, Trails and Open Space Committee, to name a few.

There are current openings, and if you are interested, contact the Department of Records, Culture and Human Resources at 801-944-7021 or by email at pmelgar@ch.utah.gov.

Some Council members engage with residents in a more informal level at City Hall and other locations around the city.

I too held similar meetings with citizens over my first year on the council, and in 2019, I plan to host quarterly dialogue/brainstorming sessions with residents as well. You can find Cottonwood Heights public meetings agendas, notices and event information on the city's website. 

Please also remember that the Council and Mayor welcome and appreciate direct contact. One of my favorite parts of being a city council member is hearing from the people we serve directly—by email, a phone call or simply approaching me at the grocery store—and then engaging with our city staff to address concerns and improve our quality of life in Cottonwood Heights.

Some of the items the city council will vote on in the coming months include a sustainability resolution, an accessory dwelling unit ordinance, a "dark skies" initiative, and the Wasatch Boulevard Master Plan.

I encourage you to call, email or come to a business meeting and share your ideas about these topics or any other concerns you may have.

Participation matters and every voice can make a difference.