Op-Ed: Town Hall Events

Everyone knows that politicians enjoy sharing their views and ideas on issues. 

As evidence of that, consider this monthly column that I write, which often-times includes topics that I am inviting readers to consider – such as what to do about property taxes, public sector pensions, the state budget, or other public policies.

In my submissions, my goal is to both inform my constituents about what is happening and also to directly communicate my thoughts and opinions about topics.  Another objective is to also offer an understanding of not just what I am thinking, but why I believe what I do about the issues on which I may be casting votes.

But perhaps the most important part of my job – and one of the reasons I write a regular column – is not to promote my own ideas, but to invite my constituents to have a conversation with me about the issues that matter most to them.

For me, feedback from the people I represent is not just meaningful – it’s necessary.

This is precisely why I have also held regular town hall meetings with my constituents.

In fact, the American town hall meeting began in the 17th century, before the founding of the country.  Viewed as a place for public debate or discussion of current events with constituents, town hall events allow any citizen to speak directly to their elected representatives about topics or issues that are important to them.

Town hall meetings are a terrific way for our government’s elected representatives to return to the foundations of representative democracy – the people.  They also foster diverse opinions, authentic communication, mutual understanding, and transparency between government and the citizens we serve. 

Throughout my time in public office, I have used many methods to try to reach my constituents.  For example, I use an e-newsletter, online website surveys, email, social media such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as traditional communication methods such as replying directly to letters or telephone calls.

Additionally, since being elected to the Senate, I have also begun to use telephone town hall meetings, where I can literally place a phone call into thousands of homes at the same time and have a direct conference-style call with a significant number of constituents at the same time – something that allows both of us to ask questions and offer and receive information.

However, for me, there is nothing more powerful than a face-to-face town hall meeting, which I have generally found to be not only helpful, but inspiring.

Town hall meetings are special because they level the playing field.

Elected leaders are no longer in some distant government building disconnected from the citizens they serve – they are instead standing side-by-side with their neighbors and community members having an open (and sometimes difficult) discussion about current topics.

Further, town hall meetings give people an opportunity to directly engage their elected officials as well as provide a forum for elected leaders to respond.  That give-and-take is essential if we are to ever truly develop an understanding of each other’s views and positions. 

Another benefit of a town hall meeting is that constituents can hear what each other believes and learn about what their friends and neighbors are focused on – whether that be educational issues, environmental concerns, economic development, or something as simple as a troublesome traffic intersection that is in need of improvement.

On March 30th I held a town hall meeting in Mount Joy, and approximately 60 people attended the event.  I could not have been more pleased.

Those that attended the town hall were all respectful and passionate and came to both offer their views and receive information.  The topic that generated the most discussion was related to property tax reform and the recent reassessment notice homeowners received.  It is clear that the people are frustrated with the current system!

However, attendees also raised other timely and important topics.  Several constituents inquired about the minimum wage, and one small business owner explained why he did not support raising the minimum wage.  I was happy that robust discussion was held about whether raising the minimum wage would help or hurt the struggling economy.

Another constituent encouraged me to tackle gerrymandering, or the practice of drawing legislative boundaries to favor certain political results.  I was able to share how I voted on the last congressional reapportionment map (I voted no), and to explain how even though the current state House and Senate districts are drawn through a bi-partisan commission established by the Pennsylvania Constitution, there is always room for improvement.

These are just a few illustrations from the March 30th town hall. 

At the end of the evening, the vast majority of people who attended the event offered their gratitude for the opportunity to speak directly with me and share their thoughts.

However, I am the one who should be grateful. 

I sincerely appreciate the interaction and feedback I get from those that I represent.  My goal is to be an open and honest public servant, and I believe that town hall meetings help me meet that important standard.

After all, if you can’t stand in front of a room full of people – even if they all disagree with you – you’re missing the point of public service.

NOTE:  Senator Aument’s next town hall meeting will be held on April 11, 6:30 PM at Garden Spot Village in New Holland.