Public Meetings and the Democratic Process

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Abstract

Public meetings are frequently attacked as useless democratic rituals that lack deliberative qualities and fail to give citizens a voice in the policy process. Do public meetings have a role to play in fostering citizen participation in policy making? While many of the criticisms leveled against public meetings have merit, I argue that they do. In this article, I explore the functions that city council and school board meetings serve. While they may not be very good at accomplishing their primary goal of giving citizens the opportunity to directly influence decisions made by governing bodies, they can be used to achieve other ends, such as sending information to officials and setting the agenda. As a complement to deliberative political structures, public meetings have a role to play by offering a venue in which citizens can achieve their political goals, thereby enhancing governmental accountability and responsiveness.

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