As you watch this video, it will become apparent why you should never hold a public meeting unless you are required to by statute. This is a public meeting held to discuss a quarry project in Hamilton, Ontario. The woman dominating the hearing was the local City Councilor, Margaret McCarthy. Here is a short list of what the applicant did wrong, as compiled by Chris Hopkins, Saint Consulting’s senior vice president for aggregates and mining. The video takes quite a while to download.
WHAT DID THE APPLICANT DO WRONG?
- First and foremost they held a public meeting. This should never be done and if it has to be done, you should always know who your audience is.
- Once the applicant had committed to the meeting, there looked to be no effort to put supporters in the room.
- The councilor hijacked the proceedings and staged the outcome she desired from the very beginning, regardless of the applicant’s purpose.
- Her goal was to stir up this crowd into an angry mob, and the applicant let her do it.
- The applicant let the councilor inform the crowd about the filming. They asked her to get permission of those people being filmed; she in turn announced to the crowd that the applicant was trying to stop them from filming, which stirred up the crowd. The applicant did not have a counter strategy for this.
- The applicant allowed her to grab the microphone when they should have conducted an introduction spelling out an agenda and rules for the evening’s process.
- They let her commandeer the microphone on three separate occasions unfettered.
- They had no one in the audience to stand up and say that they objected to being filmed. This could have led to the filming not being allowed.
- They had no supporters in the audience to counter the opposition that was present.
- It is not known if the applicant deliberately scheduled this meeting to conflict with the city council meeting, expecting that this councilor would not be able to attend, but if they did, it backfired and made them look deceitful.
- The applicant did not counter anything the councilor said, at the very least they should have engaged in a debate to stop her momentum.
- Notice at the end how the person shooting the video stood up even before there was a call for the walkout. He knew it was coming.
WHAT SHOULD THE APPLICANT HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY?
- First and foremost, they should not have held a public meeting.
- They should have brought the surveys to the homes of the closest neighbors and met with them one on one.
- At the most host individual street meetings sending out targeted invitations.
- At any meeting that you hold you should do the following.
- Make sure that you have supporters from the community in the room.
- Make sure that the supporters have talking points and know they need to speak.
- Have the supporters arrive early enough to get the prime seats and be in the center of the action.
- Have supporters who are willing to shout down a councilor such as this or another antagonize comments like “let them speak”.
- On this night once it was scheduled and they saw what was coming, they could have taken action to prevent the outcome that occurred.
- They should have set an agenda and ground rules at the beginning of the meeting with “we will present first and then take questions from the audience”.
- They should have established a time limit for people to speak in the “spirit of fairness”. This would have allowed them to cut off the councilor.
- They should never have let the councilor take the microphone for a second time, let alone a third.
- They should have interrupted the councilor in order to answer some of her assertions, thereby breaking up her momentum.
- Rather than have their engineer start their presentation, they should have had someone with a stronger personality who could have drawn in and engaged the crowd.
By meeting with these residents in small groups or individually at their homes, the problems could have been mitigated. The “mob” mentality would not have been able to fester and their surveys would have been completed.
The media coverage all led with the headline that a walkout was staged in protest. The coverage painted a picture of an entire community opposed to this application, thereby damaging the application even further.
This was a waste of time and money by the applicant and more importantly it damaged the applicant’s reputation within the community for the long term.