Having a voice in your community’s decisions

Explore steps you can take to be aware of decisions taking place in your community and to actively participate in the decision-making process with your local officials.

How often have you or someone you know expressed frustrations about changes made in your township or city? Have you ever felt like you don’t have a say in decisions being made, and often don’t even hear about these changes until after they have taken place? Have you ever felt like you’re not sure where to begin having your voice heard?

If this is you, you’re not alone. Many people in Michigan communities would like to voice their concerns or express their support to local officials but are unaware of the avenues available to them.

Our country’s founding fathers recognized the importance of providing citizens with the right to know what decisions officials are considering. We have been granted the right to due process, and local officials are required by law to follow the Open Meetings Act and various other state statues when conducting official business.

Local governments must provide notification of any proposed new plan, zoning ordinance, variance or rezoning of property in a newspaper 15 days prior to holding a public hearing. In addition, if you own land or your land adjoins land that is subject to the proposed change, your local officials are required to provide you with a written notice prior to the hearing since you could be directly affected by these changes.

Time is provided at these hearings for public comment in which you may raise any questions, comments, concerns or support for the particular issue. Some communities do limit an individual’s speaking time (usually two to five minutes), so if you have several points you would like to share, be sure to prepare ahead of time. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking publicly or feel that the issue is too complex to cover in a short time, you have the right to provide comments in writing prior to the meeting.

The best advice for concerned citizens is to be proactive! Look for notices regularly in your local newspaper and on your community’s website (if they have one). Stop by your township or city hall to check for notices and other postings. Consider attending meetings on a regular basis or speaking with your elected and appointed officials to share your perspective and encourage others in your community to do the same! Most officials sincerely appreciate hearing from members of their community and rely on your comments when making public policy decisions.

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