This is a report on how to be ineffective in public hearings, public meetings, and many other forums available to have your voice heard and your preferences known.

With so many good opportunities for citizen input to sponsor zoning changes, review agency regulations, critique government policies, comment on development projects, and speak your mind on whether and with what conditions permits and licenses ought to be granted, why bother to be effective? Somebody else is bound to do it right. Let them enjoy the pride in a battle well-fought and an occasional victory well-deserved. 

Surely it is enough to do the minimum poorly and then have the satisfaction of complaining why your ideas were ignored, why your contentions were rejected, why your positions were misunderstood, and why your cause was unsuccessful. 

The list of suggestions below is presented in honor of people disappointed with the course of human events, railing against change, always amazed at how things turn out. They are satisfied to commiserate at cocktail parties and leave it at that. 

These tips are tried and true. These techniques have been used over and over with bad results.

  1. JUST REACT. Wait until the last minute to do anything, preferably only when it is too late. Never pick your fights when you can relish the opportunity to defend. Never select your issues when you can allow someone else to select them. By waiting until the last minute you will be sure to conform to Rule No. 2.
  2. DO NOT PREPARE. God forbid you should be ready for a public hearing or meeting or comment period. That would require time and effort. That would lead to research on relevant facts presented to fit applicable criteria. That might lead to being persuasive.
  3. DO NOT PERSUADE. Just speak your mind and, while you are at it, give them a piece of your mind. It is enough to let them know how you feel and what you demand. Never bother to tailor your points to the audience or the decisionmaker.
  4. HARP ON ONE ISSUE. There is no sense elaborating all the reasons you are correct. Merely pick one point and drive it home again and again ad nauseum. Incidentally, select as your best issue some picky procedural point so everybody can understand that your effort lacks depth and substance. This is related to the next Rule.
  5. IGNORE THE MERITS. Base your case on personalities or politics and nothing else. Pollution control, open space preservation, growth management, aquifer protection, and the public health and safety are too complex. You might have to learn something to present your case and face hard issues.
  6. WORK ALONE. Coordinating with others who share your interests would necessitate meeting new people and finding out how you can help each other. It would mean you would have to plan your presentation at a public hearing or share the cost of an expert consultant. Anyway, other groups have their own agendas for business or labor, elderly or youth, church or school. It is best to work in a vacuum with your voice just a lone cry.
  7. DO ONLY ONE THING. File your petition with a few signatures and then wonder why it was not enough. Pretend the public hearing is the whole shooting match where decisionmakers attend, listen, pay attention, and then decide. Do only one political action or one technical report and then sit back to see if that works before you bother to do anything else.
  8. BE FANATIC. Overstate your case. Be a true believer. Admit no mistakes. Live by the credo: "Often wrong, never in doubt!"
  9. ASK THE IMPOSSIBLE. Never research the applicable statute, state regulation, zoning bylaw, subdivision regulation, or other standard governing a board decision. Just assume the board has complete discretion to decide based on the volume of shouting from the audience. Be certain to demand a decision which would be illegal for the board to give you. Take the opportunity to demonstrate your unfamiliarity with board procedures, information requirements, and deadlines.
  10. THEN LEAVE. When done, depart early. Do not risk being around for the actual decision, let alone any motions for reconsideration followed by revotes. It is especially important to miss subsequent nights of rehearing when the politics and the people present may be entirely different and the decision may be reversed.
  11. DO NOT LOBBY. For goodness sake, do not dirty your hands with informal correspondence and discussions with decisionmakers behind the scenes. That is lobbying and lobbying is dirty. Never give yourself any reasonable prospect of success by educating ahead-of-time the people you want to convince. That way your message can remain muddled when it is too late to do any good.
  12. NEVER PUT IT IN WRITING. Don't bother distilling your positions to writing. Why provide the clarity that comes through organizing a written presentation? Why do the writing that shows your strength of purpose, support for positions, and staying power? Why guild a written record to giving the decisionmaker a solid foundation for siding with you? Why submit the documents that would let a reviewing court agree with you? The other side is submitting plenty of documentation including technical studies, legal briefs, and policy arguments. That should be enough for the reviewing court to get the picture.
  13. BE A NIMBY. Rather than advancing a better idea, just be negative. If a public or private project is proposed, be sure to use the words, "Not In My Back Yard." That way you can be a model citizen showing appreciation of valid public policies and private rights. The general idea is to be the typical, naysaying neighbor.
  14. DEVELOP PARANOIA. Make everyone your enemy and make new enemies if you run out. Everyone is against you. Everything is decided behind your back. Government officials are in cahoots and in conflict of interest. Politicians are all bad. Be sure to say so publicly. When a board member votes against you do not support that person for reelection or reappointment even if the alternatives are worse. If an agency makes a decision against you, do not support its budget requests for the money it needs to do things the way you want. In other words, never talk with your opposition to see where you can "agree to agree" even if on some matters you must "agree to disagree".