Public hearings a waste of time?

From time to time our governing bodies will have to call a public hearing on various official matters, such as for policy making or land use/zoning changes.  They’ve been called recently, on Monday and Tuesday, by the county Board of Supervisors to gauge the public’s feel on the proposed new supervisor districts.
Public hearings are usually requested to gauge the public’s feel on an issue or to provide an update. Hearings are sometimes held to gather information in the form of expert testimony.  As part of open-government, public hearings notices shall be posted in the local newspaper up to three times before the hearing date to provide the public enough time to plan for the hearing and, say, gather together to make a stand at the meeting on an issue.
Public hearings, then, are an important tool in our republic and hold our public officials accountable.  In the past few years, I’ve seen a whole town changed by a public hearing.  Years ago, MDOT Rails Division had offered the town of Wesson a huge sum of money to close a dangerous crossing at 7th Street.  The town held a public hearing that drew around 50 Wesson residents, many of whom gave passionate arguments, both for and against, during the hearing that was also attended by representatives from MDOT, the mayor and the entire Board of Aldermen.  Though the town subsequently went on record to reject the offer, MDOT later closed the crossing anyway.
The point is that public officials call for public hearings to hear from the public in the public arena.  The case above has been a exception in Copiah County, as a strong majority of the hearings are attended by no one from the public, despite proper notice through the proper channels.  It seems as though we just don’t care.
So, other than the fact they are mostly required by open government rules and regulations, why should public hearings be held if no one is going to attend them?   Would more attend if public hearings were held in the evenings?  Or, are they simply a waste of time?
Maybe we should all simply make a better effort to find out.
Joe Buck Coates

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