IU prof turns to ADR to encourage public participation in government

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The laws designed to allow members of the public to have a voice in their government are actually stifling the conversation, according to an Indiana University Bloomington expert.

Lisa Blomgren Amsler, professor in the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs, is the lead author of, “Making Public Participation Legal,” a report by the National Civic League with support from the Deliberative Democracy Consortium. The study warns that in local and state proceedings across the country, “democracy is dwindling, three minutes at a time.”

Amsler and her colleagues note that the decades-old public meeting format where officials make a presentation followed by citizens having three minutes to ask questions or make comments provides little opportunity for interaction or deliberation.

“When combined with other kinds of engagement opportunities, traditional public hearings can work, mainly by providing a sense of closure and validation to public debate on an issue,” the report stated. “But since our legal framework supports only the bare minimum of deliberation, the pressure of dealing with contentious policy issues falls squarely on a format that isn’t up to the task.”

In turn, the relationship between citizens and their public institutions can fray, which can undermine the legitimacy and financial stability of government.

A working group that included representatives from the International Municipal Lawyers Association, the American Bar Association and the National League of Cities developed new legal tools for public participation in local and state governments. Amsler said the tools drew inspiration from the alternative dispute resolution laws.

“Simply by authorizing public agencies to use mediation, facilitation and other ADR processes, those laws resulted in a dramatic proliferation of these practices at every level of the legal system,” Amsler stated in the report.

Key recommendations from the study for improving public participation include:
• Giving residents, decision-makers and other stakeholders regular opportunities – in a variety of places such as online forums, public meetings, and gatherings in neighborhoods, schools and workplaces – to build relationships, discuss issues and celebrate community
• Inviting people of all backgrounds and viewpoints to participate so the same citizens don’t dominate meetings
• Ensuring participation has a tangible and readily apparent impact on policy decision, public plans and public budgets
• Appointing a “public participation coordinator” within City Hall and setting annual participation goals


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  1. This new language about a warning has not been discussed at previous meetings. It's not available online. Since it must be made public knowledge before the vote, does anyone know exactly what it says? Further, this proposal was held up for 5 weeks because members Carol and Lucy insisted that all terms used be defined. So now, definitions are unnecessary and have not been inserted? Beyond these requirements, what is the logic behind giving one free pass to discriminators? Is that how laws work - break it once and that's ok? Just don't do it again? Three members of Carmel's council have done just about everything they can think of to prohibit an anti-discrimination ordinance in Carmel, much to Brainard's consternation, I'm told. These three 'want to be so careful' that they have failed to do what at least 13 other communities, including Martinsville, have already done. It's not being careful. It's standing in the way of what 60% of Carmel residents want. It's hurting CArmel in thT businesses have refused to locate because the council has not gotten with the program. And now they want to give discriminatory one free shot to do so. Unacceptable. Once three members leave the council because they lost their races, the Carmel council will have unanimous approval of the ordinance as originally drafted, not with a one free shot to discriminate freebie. That happens in January 2016. Why give a freebie when all we have to do is wait 3 months and get an ordinance with teeth from Day 1? If nothing else, can you please get s copy from Carmel and post it so we can see what else has changed in the proposal?

  2. Here is an interesting 2012 law review article for any who wish to dive deeper into this subject matter: Excerpt: "Judicial interpretation of the ADA has extended public entity liability to licensing agencies in the licensure and certification of attorneys.49 State bar examiners have the authority to conduct fitness investigations for the purpose of determining whether an applicant is a direct threat to the public.50 A “direct threat” is defined as “a significant risk to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated by a modification of policies, practices or procedures, or by the provision of auxiliary aids or services as provided by § 35.139.”51 However, bar examiners may not utilize generalizations or stereotypes about the applicant’s disability in concluding that an applicant is a direct threat.52"

  3. We have been on the waiting list since 2009, i was notified almost 4 months ago that we were going to start receiving payments and we still have received nothing. Every time I call I'm told I just have to wait it's in the lawyers hands. Is everyone else still waiting?

  4. I hope you dont mind but to answer my question. What amendment does this case pretain to?

  5. Research by William J Federer Chief Justice John Marshall commented May 9, 1833, on the pamphlet The Relation of Christianity to Civil Government in the United States written by Rev. Jasper Adams, President of the College of Charleston, South Carolina (The Papers of John Marshall, ed. Charles Hobson, Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2006, p, 278): "Reverend Sir, I am much indebted to you for the copy of your valuable sermon on the relation of Christianity to civil government preached before the convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Charleston, on the 13th of February last. I have read it with great attention and advantage. The documents annexed to the sermon certainly go far in sustaining the proposition which it is your purpose to establish. One great object of the colonial charters was avowedly the propagation of the Christian faith. Means have been employed to accomplish this object, and those means have been used by government..." John Marshall continued: "No person, I believe, questions the importance of religion to the happiness of man even during his existence in this world. It has at all times employed his most serious meditation, and had a decided influence on his conduct. The American population is entirely Christian, and with us, Christianity and Religion are identified. It would be strange, indeed, if with such a people, our institutions did not presuppose Christianity, and did not often refer to it, and exhibit relations with it. Legislation on the subject is admitted to require great delicacy, because freedom of conscience and respect for our religion both claim our most serious regard. You have allowed their full influence to both. With very great respect, I am Sir, your Obedt., J. Marshall."