A public relations firm representing the Rankin Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District issued a press release this week defending itself against criticism of how it handled public comments at a July 24 “One Lake” meeting in Jackson.
It takes particular issue with a quote in the Clarion Ledger from Louie Miller, the Mississippi representative of the Sierra Club, who alleged the district’s process violated federal law by not having a question-and-answer session.
Attendees were not allowed to make comments during the meeting, which included a long talk by the district’s lawyer and shorter presentations by engineers. Afterward, the public and press were permitted to ask questions of the engineers and lawyer.
“The fact is that the format of the July 24 public meeting was in full compliance with state and federal law and provided the best possible setting for the public to receive information about the project while having an unlimited opportunity to have their questions answered,” the press release said.
It said allowing attendees to ask questions afterward “is the most effective method of obtaining the public’s feedback, and is absent in the traditional one-microphone, large-crowd format.”
It noted that the public could submit official comments via a stenographer or in writing and that comments can continue to be made online, via email or regular mail through Sept. 6.
The district says the law for public comment only requires 45 days, but they are allocating 76 days and that they’re holding three public meetings when only one is required.
The district is no doubt right that it has not violated the letter of the law requiring public hearings. However, if the district truly was seeking a fair representation of all ideas regarding the project, why wouldn’t it allow people to make brief presentations at a public hearing? That is the normal process for such meetings.
For example, before a local government passes its budget it gives taxpayers or any other member of the public the opportunity to share their views with the elected officials. And public meetings usually allow a time for public comment, provided a person signs up and agrees to a five-minute or so time limit.
The criticism the drainage district is facing now about its format is self-inflicted. It should prove its serious about listening to all sides by allowing people to sign up to talk at the two remaining meetings.
Of course, the reason it’s not allowing that is it doesn’t want critics of the project to be given a forum to share their views. A true public hearing, though, would not be so slanted.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should be the body to host these meetings. It would give a more neutral outlet rather than the district, which clearly wants to push the project through, regardless of what anyone downstream has to say.
But the fact that the district had to hire a PR firm to represent it shows that the opposition from places like Columbia is beginning to make a difference.
— Charlie Smith