We regularly use this space to encourage you, as a resident of Greenville or Hunt County, to get involved in the civic life of your community.

This week, we want to help you understand one way you can do that: through speaking publicly to the members of your local city council, school board, county commissioners’ court, hospital board or board of aldermen.

Starting Sept. 1, local governments will be required to let members of the public speak at meetings of their city councils, school boards and other governing bodies. Hunt County’s local governments generally already allow public comments at their regular meetings and they have processes in place so those comments can be made in an orderly manner.

Many people have opinions on how things should change. If you’re one of them and you’re interested in putting your idea before the whole group of city council members or county commissioners, speaking during a public comment period is a way to do that. But it helps to know how the process works so you can be prepared.

First, do your research. It’s important that you make sure you understand the current circumstances or regulations before you suggest they need to be changed; otherwise, you might find out that what you want to propose is already the case or is in the works. You can call your city council member to ask for information and you can research Greenville city ordinances as well as other information on the city’s website, ci. greenville.tx.us.

If something you want to research isn’t available online — like if you want to see if your idea is already in the city’s master plan to carry out in a few years — go ahead and call or email the city offices or your elected official to ask for the information.

Similarly, Hunt County residents wishing to research information regarding county ordinances can go to the county’s website at http://www.huntcounty.net. Phone numbers for each county commissioner are available there, too. Residents of cities and towns outside Greenville  should either look up the government website or contact the elected officials or government offices to conduct research.

So, you’ve done the research. You understand what’s the case now and how you want to see it changed. You’ve written out what you want to say, keeping it to the point. What’s next?

In general, you will need to sign up ahead of the government meeting so they know that you want to speak.

Many other local governing bodies provide a sign-up sheet at the meeting so you can arrive early and provide your name that way. If you’re not sure what the process is for the particular meeting you want to address, it’s a good idea to call ahead, either to the government offices or to your elected official. City council members, governing board members and county commissioners can always help you out.

Then — once you’re prepared and signed up to speak — pay attention to the meeting agenda so you know when your time comes. Look for “public comment” on the agenda, usually near the beginning, and listen for when the meeting chair calls for you.

You may be invited to a podium or microphone so your comments can be recorded — at public meetings, what you say becomes part of the public record. Start with your name and address so the board members know that you are part of their district or municipal boundaries. Then make your presentation. It doesn’t need to be long; in fact, many meetings limit each speaker to 5 minutes tops. Short and sweet is great.

If you want to speak on something that a governing body is already going to be talking about, the process is generally the same. You’ll still need to be prepared, sign up ahead of time and listen for the appropriate time to address the gathering.

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