Following the posting of the recent notes on the latest council meeting to the Our Town Facebook group an interesting, short exchange took place:
Group member A – “Could you post the French version of council notes also? Or I just can’t find them ?”
Our Town group administrator’s reply – “We would very happily do so if we had a francophone volunteer able to attend meetings and take notes … these notes are taken by citizen volunteers. They are not formal minutes from the town hall which, if you have seen them, contain only minimal detail. We publish these unofficial notes because the only other record shared with the public are some very minimal lines in News & Views, often several weeks after the meeting in question. S’il y a des francophones qui voudraient aider, veuillez nous contacter. Nous aimerions vous parler. (Notez – les réunions du conseil sont principalement en anglais)”
Group member B comment – “So basically many things in our town are done on a volunteer-only basis? I agree that notes should be bilingual.”
Very important comments – and thank you to the two members of the group who raised this issue. Time for a bit of background …
A bit earlier than the election campaign started up last October a group of citizens, realising that there really are no generally available channels to help people who live here to talk to each other and exchange ideas and opinions (or to warn of fallen trees, potholes in the road, etc) took the easy option of starting the “Our Town/Notre Ville” Facebook Group which now is approaching almost 400 members. They were aware that it is not perfect, but for now it is all there is. We were not criticising the administration by doing so but we are trying to make a channel available until such time as a “better” alternative comes along. The feedback we receive from the members of the group would indicate that it does serve a purpose. The more members this group has the greater the diffusion of information will become.
Shortly after the new council was elected those same citizens, frustrated by the fact that anyone wishing to know what has happened at a council meeting has to either attend in person (not always possible for most residents) or wait, sometimes up to six weeks, for the minimalist notes published in News & Views to become available, made an effort to address that issue as well. We believe that it is vitally important that everyone has the opportunity to know what is being decided in their name within a very few days of each council meeting being held. Six weeks is far, far too long for effective participatory democracy to work as it should.
Accordingly the persona of “Citizen Marat” was born. Citizen Marat is the nom de plume of a small number of citizens who attend council meetings and prepare notes of proceedings that we can publish on this website and share to members of the Facebook group. We come from a range of political backgrounds and some from none – what we have in common is a wish to make information available in as non-partisan a manner as possible by publishing notes of council proceedings. We note that even when the formal town hall minutes are available some weeks later they adhere to a strictly minimalist format and do not address the cut and thrust and detail of interactions between councillors and citizens at public meetings. We are not perfect but we do the best we can. We assure you that a gratifyingly high number of downloads of these notes are recorded every month.
However – council meetings are predominantly conducted in English. If a citizen stands and speaks in French he/she will be respoinded to in French but such interactions are not that frequent. Citizen Marat is not a mother tongue francophone and so takes notes in English and publishes them as such.
Now the question has been raised – how about notes in French?
Our answer is YES … we would love to be able to offer that “service” but to do so it necessitates the presence at each meeting of two correspondents – one taking notes in each language or of a translator in the wings who can turn the English notes round within a couple of days.
And so – getting to the crux of the issue – nous invitons tous les francophones intéressés à devenir preneur de notes à communiquer avec Citizen Marat à firstname.lastname@example.org – nous demandons à tout volontaire désireux d’aider à cette tâche de préparer un résumé de la réunion en français et de l’envoyer pour publication au (disons ) trois jours de la réunion.
We would also like a couple more note-takers in English. Please step forward.
PS: Before any reader takes us to task, the members of the Citizen Marat body politic will always publish notes of proceedings in a strictly impartial manner. We do, however, reserve the right to also post, from time to time, personal comments on certain decisions but we will always make it clear that these are quite separate from the council meeting notes. We will post comments on the town affairs from anyone asking us to do so … believe it or not we are not infrequently in support of council decision; we are not an underground opposition by any means, just citizens trying to do something for the community.