listening to anyone who wished to speak, the hearing was adjourned. In several weeks the MMB ordered the consolidation. Both city councils then voted on it. It passed in North Branch, but failed in Branch. At that point, citizens from Branch circulated a petition and succeeded in calling for a September referendum in both cities.
The study commission had no role in the campaigns and debates over the initiative. However, the chair of the commission accepted an invitation to present the final report and answer questions at a public meeting a week before the referendum. It was the same presentation of the commission's findings, conclusions, and recommendations given in the spring at the conclusion of the commission's work, and to the MMB at its hearing. The consolidation passed by more than 60 percent in Branch and more than 90 percent in North Branch. The newly consolidated city of North Branch officially came into being in November 1994, right after a general election to seat a new city council.
|Put yourself in the role of the study commission chair. How would you balance your duty to be a neutral party in the process against a responsibility to present the commission's work to the public? Remember that the process was instigated by citizens. After the commission had voted to recommend consolidation, would it have been appropriate for the commission to take a public position in favor of consolidation?|
The process used in this case shows that citizens can study a complex and controversial issue with the help of outside experts. It was important to delineate the mission of the commission at the outset and to organize its work in an efficient and equitable manner. It was also necessary to assign work in a way that avoided the appearance of impropriety or conflict of interest. This case study emphasizes the importance of public input in studying a controversial community issue. It is essential that the public be involved in the setting of the study commission's agenda to ensure that salient issues are addressed. On the other hand, it is imperative that the study commission resist being drawn into political debates before they have had time to gather, analyze, and reach conclusions about relevant facts. This process can be used to reach a decision about a wide range of public policy issues in a community.