Throughout your skatepark development process you will attend lots of City Council meetings. The City Council members will come to recognize you as “the skatepark person” and will come to welcome your presence. (Skateparks are much more interesting than most of the topics City Councils are expected to manage.) Your first meeting, however, may be a bit intimidating.
You can find when and where your City Council meetings are held from your town’s website. You’ll find the City Council meeting schedule under “local government” or even “meeting schedules.” You can also call City Hall and simply ask them when and where the next City Council meeting is. (City Council meetings are almost always held at City Hall.)
You can attend a City Council meeting simply to watch and listen, but you can also speak. (You are never required to speak.) Speaking in front of City Council, sometimes known as “addressing the Council,” is done in a number of ways. The most typical method that Council meetings employ is to just have people show up a few minutes before the meeting starts and sign their name on a sheet near the door, with the box checked that indicates that they’d like to speak. If you sign in and don’t check this box, you won’t be called on.
Unless there is some controversial issue in the community, there will probably be fewer people at the meeting than you expected. The meeting will be attended by city employees giving departmental reports, as well as other members of the public, like you, speaking about a particular issue.
All public comment is handled at a particular time during the City Council meeting. It usually happens near the beginning of the meeting, but occasionally it’s near the end. The only time that the public is invited to speak outside of the public comment period is when members of the Council direct a question specifically to a member of the audience. Responding to public comments made by others, particularly those that are opposed to the skatepark, is considered very unprofessional and will damage the Council’s and public’s perception of your group.
After announcing the meeting, doing a roll call, and approving the minutes of the previous meeting, the real meeting begins. You will hear a few special reports from people that have particular responsibilities to the City Council, such as “the Treasurer’s Report.” At some point the Chairman will announce public comment.
If you indicated that you would like to speak, your name will be called. It’s not important that more than one person from your group speak at this first meeting; one should do it. (At later City Council meetings, after your project is off the ground, you might find that it’s useful to pack Council chambers with skateboarders.) It’s great to have other members from the group in the audience to give the short presentation merit. The meetings are recorded, so they will usually ask you to speak into a microphone.
You can read from notes if you prefer. You will not be permitted the luxury of an elaborate presentation, and you will have two or three minutes to speak. That may not seem like a lot but it’s plenty of time.
You may be a little nervous the first time you address City Council. That’s normal, and you might notice that other people speaking are nervous, too. Try to stay relaxed and keep the topic fixed on what you want the City Council to do.
Your short presentation should stay focused on what the skatepark will accomplish and how your group expects to get there. You do not need to be poetic or use clever speaking contrivances. Address City Council like you were talking to an elderly family member. It helps to be enthusiastic and seem excited to be there. They will appreciate your positivity. (Conversely, if you come at them with accusations and seem pissed off, they, and the audience, will be turned off… they will NOT share your frustration at the injustices you’ve faced as a skateboarder. They will merely conclude that you probably deserved it.)
You should focus on:
- Who you are:
Your age, if you’re 16 or under
What school you attend, if you’re a student
- Who the group is that you are speaking for:
The name of the group, if you have one
What you have in common (skateboarding)
What you realized as a group (need a place to skate)
- Why your group is presenting tonight:
To propose a public skatepark
Your group recognizes the challenges and are prepared to meet them
To establish a partnership with the city
Namely, to form a “Skatepark Advisory Committee” to report back on skatepark development progress to the city on a regular basis.
- You are NOT asking for a donation
Your group is willing to do the work
- “Thank you for your time and consideration.”
Dress up the outline in your own words. Emphasize the benefits to the whole community. You should avoid sweeping generalizations about the benefits. The skatepark, for example, won’t immediately “cure” youth obesity, but it will help! It may not eliminate all street skating, but it will certainly reduce it. It won’t stop all delinquent activity, but it won’t add to it. Bottom line: The skatepark is an important component of a larger solution.
The City Council may have questions for you. The two most common questions are:
How much does a skatepark cost?
A: The kind of skatepark we envision will cost between $30-40 per square foot. The final size, nature of the design, and our abilities to seek in-kind donations will have a large impact on our fundraising needs.
What kind of liability does a skatepark represent?
A: Most states recognize skateparks as ordinary recreational facilities just like any other. The city should have no additional insurance burden. The larger issue is that local youth are currently at risk by skating in the streets. The skatepark would help address this serious issue.
They may also ask what the goal and composition of the skatepark advisory committee would be. The best-case scenario is a committee that has the following mission:
A: To identify and pursue opportunities to create a public skatepark (or skateparks) for our town. Committee meetings will be held monthly or twice-monthly, and will be attended by members of the skateboarding community and (hopefully) liaisons from the City and Parks Department, as well as other community leaders, as needed.
After this brief discussion, the City Council will respond to your request to create the skatepark advisory committee. Here are some responses you might expect to hear from them:
“You don’t need our approval to form this committee.”
This is, in some ways, a form of rejection. The city is essentially saying that they have no desire to endorse your group. They will be encouraging and applaud your initiative, but that’s not what you need.
“We will consider it and have made a decision for you by the next meeting.”
They are delaying a decision to see if you have the commitment to show up for the next meeting. They are responding to a notion that you and your group met last night for the first time and are looking for expedient solutions. When you show up for the next meeting—and you must show up—the odds are good that they’ll approve the formation of the skatepark advisory committee. However, there’s a small chance that they will delay or deny the proposal.
“We appreciate your work but this is not the appropriate place for a request like this. You should meet with the Parks & Recreation Commission.”
This response may seem like a recrimination but it’s useful advice. Many cities and towns have commissions that specifically deal with parks issues. The city council is basically telling you, “interesting, but not our problem.” There’s a good chance that a representative from Parks & Recreation is in the room, so they’ll know to expect you at their next meeting.
“We would be happy to recognize and endorse the skatepark advisory group.”
This is obviously the best outcome. With this response your group is ready to pursue the skatepark according to an official, time-tested process with the city.