It was wonderful to see our state legislators during a townhall in Gardner this past weekend. It’s seems we’ve heard nary a word from them since the session began.
Now on a month long recess, local representatives to the Kansas Legislature, including Sens. Pat Apple and Julia Lynn and Rep. Bill Sutton hosted a townhall meeting on April 13.
Rep. Willie Dove, who represents Gardner Lake residents, was “left off the menu” as he put it, but was asked to the dias prior to the start of the forum.
While we were happy to see all of our representatives in one place, we would like to see a less formal format for future forums.
The legislators sat behind the dias at Gardner City Hall. With more than 50 people in attendance, the actual representatives were physically distant from the constituents. That’s fine and good for a formal event, but inappropriate when the assumed goal is to get closer to the people they represent.
The forum also boasted a moderator who took questions with notecards, reworded questions and asked his own question. Though he asked good questions, the moderator placed another barrier between the representatives and the people.
A moderator’s role is to keep things moving and allow equal time, but no one kept time. This meant that in the hour long session, legislators answered a total of four questions.  And it ran late. The town hall meeting was scheduled to last one hour. Instead, the question and answer segment lasted more than an hour and a half. We appreciated the extra time, but we’re not sure that time was used as well as it could have been.
At future town hall events, we would prefer a format that places the legislators themselves on the same level as the people they represent. In a formal meeting in which business is being conducted, a dias is fine, but otherwise, legislators should give at least the appearance that they are citizens first, equal to their constituents. It’s a small thing, but appearances matter.
Second, Dove should have been invited to participate in the forum in the first place. We often forget that his district includes a tiny piece of Gardner, but it’s good for citizens to know we have more than one voice in the Kansas House.
Third, we would prefer no moderator. Instead, we’d rather see each legislator call on audience members to ask questions. If a moderator is to be used, we would prefer that a time keeper be used as well, to allow for the maximum amount of concerns and questions to be aired.
Government closest to the people governs best. We would appreciate forums that suggest as much in word and in deed.