Why Daniel Biss's Convo with CSNA Is Cool

A brief rant on "town hall meetings" and why the meeting Tuesday, June 29 is unusual and worth attending.

The phrase "town meeting" conjures up images of the public at an old-fashioned public meeting, giving their elected officials a piece of their mind. Norman Rockwell's famous 1943 painting "Freedom of Speech" (right) depicts such a "town meeting" in Vermont.

In an ever-more-digitized and depersonalized era, with growing disconnect between government and the governed, my observation is that many -- not all, but many -- citizens are hungry for opportunities to be heard.

In semi-response to this, we've seen a plethora of events proliferate over the past 20 years, commonly called "town hall meetings." Superficially, these resemble the Rockwellesque scenario, but in reality, there never was and isn't anything in Illinois or local law called a "town hal meeting." In most of these, instead of the focus being on the public's thought, the events typically consist of a panel of elected officials or "experts" who occupy the bulk of the meeting with their presentation to the public, after which there is sometimes a short Q&A -- sometimes written and handed in, sometimes live.

Any interaction is better than none, but most of these are really top-down communication: those already in positions of authority or influence telling the public what's what. Altho that's better than authority not even showing up between elections, it's sort of the opposite of democracy.

Daniel Biss, mayor of Evanston for little more than two months, has not only agreed, but welcomed the chance to appear Tuesday evening before Central Street Neighbors Association members for an unrehearsed evening in which he will entertain whatever questions or comments surface. CSNA plans to moderate only to the extent necessary to keep the conversation moving along and ensure fairness to as many as possible, as well as to Mayor Biss.

Mayor Biss's willingness to appear without conditions is refreshing, and I hope that residents concerned with the present and future of Evanston will take advantage of this opportunity.