Town hall meeting was great, but it could've been greater

Have you seen the videos of town hall meetings across the U.S.? The ones where people yell and holler and kick and scream?

It shouldn't come as any surprise, but Gwinnett County residents are just too civilized for such antics.

A town hall forum held here last week was well-attended by people well-behaved.

Certainly there was disagreement and discontent. But everyone conducted themselves with proper comportment.

Props go to the Gwinnett Citizens for Responsible Government, Sabrina Smith, chairman, and Freedom Works, Debbie Dooley, Georgia Grassroots director, who hosted the Thursday evening event.

The town hall meeting allowed for some great dialogue among the nearly 300 in attendance and the 13 panelists selected for their ability to offer insight on the issues Gwinnettians, Georgians and Americans face.

Some may wonder why we need town hall meetings. After all, governmental bodies meet regularly to conduct the public's business. But over the years, government has become more restrictive on the "public comment" portion of proceedings. Little opportunity exists for a give and take of suggestions, an exchange of ideas. That's why the town hall meeting fills a void.

I'd like to see more of these events - with a few modifications from Thursday's format.

· Get on with the show. Generally, the best part of any program is the question-and-answer period. That's when the dialogue really gets going. With that in mind, let's get to the Q&A ASAP. The show started late, and once the opening remarks, invocation, pledge, recognition of elected officials, instructions and opening statements from the panelists were over, the first question was asked at 8:15 at an event advertised to begin at 7 p.m.

· Too many panelists. Thirteen panelists took the stage and most said nothing other than their opening statement. At such an event, 13 is too many. If each limited themselves to a two-minute introductory statement, that's still nearly a half hour.

· Keep time. At such events, someone needs to keep speakers honest in terms of time at the microphone. Frequently, questioners don't have a question; they want a platform to make their point. Panelists were to limit statements to two minutes and questions from the audience were to take no longer than a minute. Few honored those requests.

These are items that the town hall organizers are already likely thinking about if they plan to do this again - and I hope they do.

Thanks again to the sponsors, participants and the audience members, who once again proved by their civil tone that Gwinnett is a step above.

J.K. Murphy is the publisher of the Gwinnett Daily Post. E-mail him at jk.murphy@gwinnettdailypost.com.