How to get what you want at a city council meeting

How to get what you want at a city council meeting

Last week, First Ward contributor and citizen activist Todd Martin took to that Elgin City Council podium to explain exactly why they should lease the former Fox River Country Day School property to the Elgin Math and Science Academy.

Todd Martin
Todd Martin

I’d love to give you all the background on this, but not only is the manner in which Elgin acquired that land more complex than those portable basketball hoop assembly instructions, given the required pre-rental infrastructure upgrades, it’s not nearly as simple as signing a one-year lease either.
If you want those detail please read the Courier.
Besides, we’re not here to judge the efficacy of this potential deal anyway. We’re here to provide a primer on how to get your point across at any city council meeting. The sad truth is, you all love to sink yourselves long before manage to get to your main contention.
But before we get to ours, let’s cover exactly what Todd said:

My name is Todd Martin. Thank you for the opportunity to speak. I would like to speak in support of the City accepting the rental offer from the Elgin Math & Science Charter School.

I have 2 children, a daughter in 1st grade and a son in 7th. My address is 1036 Logan Avenue in Elgin, so I live on the North-east side of town. Let me be clear, I want the best possible education for my children. I am not alone. Most people, when they choose where they raise their family look at the schools near their home.

In my neighborhood, my public school offerings are Coleman Elementary or McKinley Elementary for my daughter. Coleman is ranked 14.5% statewide, meaning 85.5% of Illinois public schools are better than Coleman. McKinley is ranked 32.8. For my son, his only public school choice would be Larsen Middle School. Larsen is ranked 33.6, so 2/3 of the schools in this State rate better.

This is unacceptable. It hurts families, it hurts my neighborhood, and it hurts the City. Elgin Math & Science Charter school would provide a quality Public School choice within easy reach of the North-East side. The Charter would provide competition to Coleman, McKinley & Larsen. If they want to retain students, they’ll have to start earning it.

As members of Elgin City Council, there are few votes which can change people’s lives for the better or affect a community more strongly than bringing in a high quality educational institution.

I understand that a few residents have voiced concerns about the rent not covering the City’s full cost for the property. It would not be fair to burden the fledgling charter school with the entire cost of the land and all its buildings. They only want to rent 2 of the buildings right now.

Others may suggest waiting and hope that a better deal comes around. Let’s be honest, the buildings are best suited for an educational use. It took years for the Elgin Math & Science Charter School to be ready to make this offer. Obstruction in the name of finding the perfect partner boils down to nothing getting accomplished. My kids are growing up fast. I’m asking for your help.

Thank you for listening.

Here’s why this works:
1. Brevity really is the soul of wit. Given the various issues, egos and some folks’ propensity for pandering, city council meetings already go on too long. Then, the public input portion always arrives at the end so, even though they’ll generally provide you plenty of latitude,  the last thing the aldermen want to hear is a two hour soliloquy.
To wit, it took Todd just three minutes to get his semi-complex point across and, trust me, those councilmen took note. Aldermen get paid virtually nothing for what often turns in to a full-time job. If you don’t respect their time, they won’t respect your premise.
2. Bitch, whine and blame and they’ll tune you out even faster. Do you really want to have to endure someone standing beside your workplace desk while they explain how much you suck? Well, they don’t either! The second you start spewing things like they suck, the school district sucks, and city employees suck, you’re toast!
You can have the best idea since the intermittent windshield wiper and it won’t matter a lick because you lost them after the first suck. Maybe they really do suck, but if you’re goal is to get something done, that ain’t the way to do it.
3. Just the facts ma’am. The second best thing about Todd’s presentation was almost everything was quantifiable. Unless you make ‘em up, (or you’re talking to Terry Gavin) it’s awfully hard to argue with the facts.
Nobody wants to hear the story of your twelfth cousin three times removed’s bad buttock tattoo experience. No one cares about what you had for lunch yesterday. And none of us want to hear your Ted Baxter-esque oratory about how it all started in a small 5,000 watt radio station in Bakersfield, California.
Aldermen love facts, so give ‘em to them!
4. What’s the solution? The best thing about Todd’s talk was he provided a solution! Sadly, some civic minded citizens competently blitz through points one through three only to bomb here. What’s your point? If all you really want to do is vent, then call your mother.
Most city councils really want to help, but I’ve been to all sorts of meetings where, for the life of me, I can’t figure out what the speaker just said. And if they can’t figure it out, they can’t help you out.
Better yet, if you come up with a reasonable solution, they know you put some thought into it and they tend to lean in a little more.
Todd told the council who he was. He explained how they could help. He described the problem with factual statements. He didn’t blame anyone for the problem. He suggested a solution which might even lead to another solution. Then he thanked them for their time.
And he did it all in three minutes. That’s how it’s done folks!

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