by Tom Hughes
A personal message from Metro President Tom Hughes
to the readers of Oregon Catalyst:
Have you ever been talking to someone about something that mattered to you and then suddenly realized that the person wasn’t really listening? It’s frustrating and deflating. And it happens too often in our current political environment.
When I began my term as Metro Council President in January of this year, I quickly realized that many folks within our region feel this way about Metro. And they are often right. Metro has a problem, or at the very least a problem of perception: many people believe we too often make decisions from inside an echo chamber.
By “echo chamber,” I mean that when Metro seeks public input on decisions before the council, we don’t hear from a representative group of our citizens. The majority of feedback comes from people who share a political perspective on land use, environmental and transportation issues that could correctly be called “left-of-center.” The rest of the feedback comes from people with a direct financial interest in the decisions, and in general, the Metro Council knows what they think before we even ask for input.
I intend to fix this, but I need your help.
As President, I represent all 1.8 million citizens in the tri-county area. Metro cannot make good decisions unless we hear from citizens of all political and ideological perspectives.
To some extent, our “echo chamber” problem has been self-inflicted. I often hear that many conservatives believe Metro uses public process to justify and validate pre-determined decisions rather than as an honest way of gathering ideas and identifying issues.
I have heard from conservative citizens who participated in one or another of Metro’s public processes only to find their voices ignored and the issues they raised disregarded. Because of that, they don’t get involved again.
And because conservatives aren’t involved, they are less likely to participate in the elections that select the officials who set Metro’s agenda. The system becomes a self-reinforcing loop – an “echo chamber” — and that’s dangerous for any public body and it’s certainly not the way we ensure that government works for the common good instead of for the good of a select group.
The only way Metro can change this is to prove through our actions — and with concrete data — that we are listening to your voices. To do this, we need your help.
We need conservatives and folks outside of Multnomah County to sign up for Metro’s new, on-line public opinion program. The program is called the “Opt In.” Joining takes just a few minutes. Just point your web browser to www.optinpanel.org. After you join, you will periodically receive on-line surveys about issues that impact Metro’s work. And, every survey will give you a chance to provide open ended feedback.
And while you are visiting www.optinpanel.org, check out the “who’s joined” tab, where you will find a summary of the demographics of the panel. It’s Metro’s way of showing everyone whether or not we are hearing from a truly representative cross section of our region. Right now, we aren’t.
That’s where you come in. I am trying to make sure Metro has an accurate picture of the public’s opinion on these matters, and that means we must have people from the conservative side of the spectrum telling us what they think.
So, I am asking you to give Metro a chance to prove we are serious about listening to your voices. My pledge to you is that if you sign up and participate in the Opt-In Program, you will see concrete evidence that we listened to you.
I fully realize that in the past, Metro has not done a good enough job at this. That is what I am trying to change. And while I can’t guarantee how any individual Metro councilor will vote on any particular issue, I can guarantee that this time, your voice will be heard and the fact that we have documented your voice will help hold Metro accountable.
Please meet me halfway and sign up at www.optinpanel.org