Laramie city councilors said tonight’s ward meetings are an opportunity to have a conversation with their local government, but not one the public has historically seized en masse.
“It’s really a well structured meeting by the city, but it’s not something that the public has taken a real interest in,” Ward 2 Councilor Joe Shumway said. “Maybe that’s a good message. Maybe it means the city is doing a lot of things right.”
During most months, the council meets four times — two work sessions and two regular sessions — on Tuesdays. Starting about four years ago, the council decided to host public discussion sessions during months with five Tuesdays.
Previously treated as a day off, the councilors don’t get paid for ward meetings.
“We’ve had less than an average of 5-10 people at the ward meetings since they began,” Shumway said. “But this City Council is determined to keep this forum open.”
While wards 2 and 3 meet in the same place each month, Mayor and Ward 1 representative Andi Summerville said Ward 1 occasionally moves around to accommodate public requests.
“Ward 1 seems to float their meeting around, but we’re going to move it back to (Laramie Fire Department Station No. 3) in West Laramie,” Summerville said. “I encourage everybody to come out.”
The idea behind creating ward meetings was to give the public an informal environment for discussions with their representatives, she said.
“(Attendees) are welcome to talk about anything,” Summerville said. “It’s one of the many ways you can engage with your council.”
Ward 3 Councilor Pat Gabriel said ward meetings present the opportunity to have a face-to-face conversation with constituents.
“It’s a lot easier to talk in a ward meeting,” Gabriel said. “It’s one on one, face to face.”
While constituents regularly leave Gabriel voice messages on his phone and send him emails, he said those methods can be one-sided without providing a chance for in-depth conversation.
“I’ve had a couple people talk to me about snow removal, so I invited them to the ward meeting to talk to all of the representatives,” Gabriel said.
“It’s a chance for real conversation. I hope more people would take advantage of this opportunity.”
In agreement with Shumway, he said the low attendance might not be a negative public response.
“Maybe we’re doing such an outstanding job that nobody wants to come,” Gabriel said.