Townhall Torture

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A recent typical rowdy townhall conducted by Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA)

While I find myself gratified in seeing all the anti-Trump sentiment being expressed so vehemently at these townhalls around the country, I am also dismayed at the total waste of time these things are for the elected officials holding them, if not for the public attending them.  I certainly understand the idea of townhall meetings

being a place where the average public can come to vent their concerns on issues of the day, they generally end up being just screaming matches.  Now, there are ways to make townhalls informative if not constructive.  In the least they can be improved to suggest there is some coherent communication going on.  The fact these are yelling matches tells me only one thing… the elected officials holding them could care less what their constituents are saying.  Either these elected officials are just going through the motions to give the impression they are concerned, or they think letting their constituents blow off some steam will settle down the opinion growing against them.  Either way it’s nuts and a waste of a great opportunity.

My first draft writing this post I ended up writing a complete educational primer on how to conduct a townhall.  While that might be of value to someone wanting to conduct one, it would be rather boring for readers of my blog to meander through all that here.  But for my readership I can present the idiocy around the way they have been done, as witnessed on TV news.  The process, or format, if you can call a yelling exchange a format (more a lack of one) is designed to fail in its hopeful purpose for the attendees.

Here’s a little bit of history around all this.  Townhalls.. or town meetings… have been since the early days the method by which a community gets together to discuss community issues and conduct civic business.  These days the basic form has been adapted to community meetings open to the public.. civic meetings, city council meetings, county board of supervisors meetings, school board meetings… these are all variants of town hall meetings.  In most cases these meetings are very structured and conducted with some measure of parliamentary procedure.. (like indicated in the popular Roberts Rules of Order) in order for everyone to be heard, ideas presented and debated, and a vote or consensus achieved.  These meetings are democracy in action on the basic level.


But in the last couple decades it’s become popular to have Q&A townhalls, primarily a format used on TV townhalls where a political guest answers questions from the audience with the mediation of an anchor person acting as moderator.  A great format for TV since their programming has to fit strict time criteria and questions are introduced in a structured way for brevity.  But they look good and progressive in their style and because of that many elected officials have adopted the Q&A format in their own townhalls.  After all, it’s an in-your-face meeting with constituents.  But the reality is that these unstructured Q&A sessions are just emotional screaming.. screaming at the elected official and screaming at each other.

I actually searched the internet to see if anyone had put together anything regarding a “how to” in conducting Q&A townhalls… and there was very little.  Most of it centered around conducting townhalls using a variant of parliamentary procedure.  So.. here’s a simple paragraph highlighting my thoughts for making these Q&A meetings mean something.

Copy the TV folks.  Get a moderator (not you or your Uncle Joe).  The moderator sets the rules, the tone, and the pace.  It’s better if the moderator is recognized in the community.. even a local news person.  People are arriving to kick your political ass (hopefully that’s all) and a good moderator can diffuse a lot of that before the audience sees you.  Don’t be on the stage; let the moderator do the “housekeeping” issues.. present himself as the authority for the meeting…  set the rules for people asking questions… set a time limit (and adhere to it)… etc.  When he introduces you expect some boos; let the moderator mellow everyone out, and move on.  When someone from the audience asks a question of you, the moderator can act to ask for clarification, clarify the question for you, and be a conduit when you answer… making sure the audience member understood the response.  Just like the TV moderators.  Common sense.

2,000 at this townhall by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR)… 2,000?? Isn’t that a bit much?

I can go on with tons and tons of tips (assuming they could all be contained and weighed for their correct tonnage) but the whole idea here is to illustrate the true incompetence of elected officials holding townhalls… which really aren’t actually true democratic town hall meetings.  They are more Q&A sessions.  Elected officials are missing a huge opportunity of cheap exposure to their voting community… and truly missing the message people are trying to convey.  But, if your townhall meeting is structured in certain ways you could easily turn it into a great PR event along with showing your constituents you are sincere regarding their opinions, and that you’re not just another D.C. or state legislature political lacky.

Think of it this way, on a partisan level, your opponent or the opposing political party would love to see your townhall depicted on the evening news as nothing but a screaming, chaotic, ruckus.

Thus endeth the lesson.


Carry on, America.

5 thoughts on “Townhall Torture

  1. Our town hall meetings are small by comparison, Doug. And they are also called Local Council Meetings. However, when something really riles the locals, like a new waste incinerator, a gipsy camp, or an unsympathetic housing development, they can become very unruly indeed. One feature of local politics here which is very different to our national politics, is the presence of many Independent elected officials. With no party line to follow, those Independents can often throw a spanner in the works.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  2. Not that we really need any new issues to rile up the local electorate, but I like that idea of independents just plodding into the political fray to mix things up. While I’m not familiar with any of our local communities finding issue with “gypsy camps”, the next town over was bitching about a “99 Cent Store” going up. I mean, c’mon.. it’s not a town-changing event like a new Walmart (we hate them, we don’t want them in our communities to muck up the competition, yet we are all happy when one is built; the modern version of “the company store”) but the 99 Cent Store is going to block someone’s view of the mountain. One such objection is that where that small store will be built is that it’s right in the middle of some migrating trail for some damn desert tortoise. Amazing what townhalls can reveal. 🙂

  3. The townhall meetings are a wonderful idea but I am afraid that the average American who attends them has become more like common undisciplined rabble and that is why there is so much screaming and shouting and disorder. I do not think it is possible to hold a public town hall meeting and have any semblance of order because Americans feel they no longer have to follow rules — People see following rules as an abrogation of freedom — so no rules apply and the one who can shout the loudest is supposed to be the one who wins the point. It is ridiculous but true. The Ugly American has now become the Screaming American and because of all the noise no one hears any message and all leave the meeting just as frustrated and angry as when they went into it. Name of the game! State of the Union. Attitude of the disgruntled … and everybody is disgruntled these days about something or other.

  4. The Townhalls are mostly theatrics these days….it gives these toads these appearance.. of caring what we mere peons think…2009 the Tea Party was stirred to a lather….2017 it is the “others”….it is all a circus of the absurd. chuq

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