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Government meetings, even those at the local level, tend to be dry and uninteresting to many citizens. As a result, public attendance at these meetings is often minimal at best. This is too bad, because the public's participation in open meetings is important to good decision-making and serves a useful watchdog role.

Speaking of dogs, one guaranteed way to get a large public turnout at a city council meetings is to put animal-control topics on the agenda. That is what happened recently at the Kennett City Council meeting, and more than 100 folks showed up. There was such a large crowd that some city officials expressed concern about the safety of having so many people in the council's meeting room at one time.

There are two ways of looking at large crowds at government meetings. The first is to view the public's interest in the agenda as a pretty good indication of citizen involvement in the process. Sometimes meetings get bogged down when so many people show up, but that's usually the fault of whoever is presiding over the meeting. It is possible to hear a variety of viewpoints from members of the public and still have and orderly meeting.

The other view of large crowds at a government meeting is when public officials regard the turnout as a nuisance or possibly even an interference in conducting business. This is an unfortunate view. Some government boards even go so far as stressing that the public's only function at a meeting is to observe, not participate. These boards usually adopt strict rules about when -- or even if -- the public can voice any opinions or offer any information during a meeting.

Limiting public involvement in a meeting may be necessary for large deliberative bodies like the Missouri Legislature or Congress. But when citizens go to city hall or the school district or the county courthouse, they have a right to expect full participation in one form or another. Some councils, boards and commissions do an excellent job of finding ways to make sure the public's views are taken into consideration.

In Kennett, the mayor has suggested that police officers be assigned to regulate the number of citizens who get into the council meeting room, citing safety concerns.

How much better it would be if government would find ways to encourage public participation by finding ways to accommodate any size crowd and make provisions for hearing from the public as matters -- even how to control dogs -- are discussed and decided. How much better it would be if the location of meetings could be changed when hot topics are on the agenda.

The Cape Girardeau School Board a few months ago moved its meetings to a larger space so members of the public would feel like they are being made a part of the process when they show up.

Of course, there is no guarantee that the citizens will always be interested in public meetings. When they are, however, it is sign of good faith and an indication of the importance of public participation when there is plenty of room and an opportunity for the public to be heard.

One way might be to always have a dog ordinance on the agenda.