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More town halls needed from Rowan’s elected officials

Following an impressive turnout at a recent town hall meeting hosted by Republican legislators, we have a simple suggestion: do it again.

Too often, elected officials lament that relatively few members of the public engage in policy debates. When state and federal officials representing Rowan County hear from the same people over and over, they lack a true understanding of constituents’ desires.

To improve policy debates, local residents should do more to engage in civic organizations and conversations within their community. When it becomes necessary, locals should turn out in force to express support or opposition to public policy. However, congressmen and state legislators also should do more to engage their constituents.

At the local level, there are a reasonable number of opportunities to express opinions about community matters. Town councils, county commissioners and the school board regularly have public comment periods.

Are there opportunities for improvement? Sure. The Rowan-Salisbury School Board, for example, only allows for public comments on the fourth Monday of each month.

In most cases, there are limited, if any, opportunities to speak face-to-face with a state legislator or congressman.

Rep. Harry Warren, R-77, has regularly held town hall meetings when the General Assembly is in session. A renewed wave of local Democratic activism appears to be a contributing factor in the large turnout during his meeting last week. The fact that other state legislators also attended may have been another contributing factor. More than 100 people — several times more than the normal crowd — piled into the county administration building.

Some members of the crowd said the meeting was the first such event they’ve attended. Others said they had attended a political event before. Also in the crowd were familiar faces, some of whom have run for office before.

Where did the crowd come from? Local political parties encouraged their members to turn out. A newly established group named Salisbury Indivisibles, which leans left, also played a part.

It’s critical that residents — liberal and conservative — engage in local politics outside of social media by attending a town hall or city council meeting. A tweet or Facebook status is much easier, but a face-to-face conversation means more.

In order for citizens to express an opinion in-person, however, opportunities have to exist. Regardless of past participation, Warren has done well to regularly hold town hall meetings.

To accurately gauge the political opinions of local residents, we would encourage other elected officials at the state and federal level to host in-person town hall meetings — telephone town halls won’t do. Avoiding face-to-face meetings makes it look like elected officials aren’t interested in hearing constituents’ opinions.

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