Tag Archives: public health

The public hearing from hell – a rant

Trigger warning – grouchiness ahead!

Last week I saw a notice about a public hearing on the development of a “plan” to manage a particularly serious disease in my state. Without worrying about which disease or even which state I’m talking about, I want to describe what was wrong with today’s public hearing.

A ninety-minute meeting to garner 18 minutes of public input is BAD.

The schedule of the event was completely backwards. If you want to hear from the public, then members of the public need to be treated like honored guests, and above all, their time must not be wasted. Repeat – the public’s time must not be wasted. So… don’t talk at me!

The citizen willing to speak at a public hearing is rare. Rare and fragile. I know this from personal experience on both sides of the podium. Most people would rather go to the dentist, say, than testify in public, even before a group that works hard to solicit their input. As a public health official, I once recruited a man with a contaminated well to go with me to the state capital (two hours away) to discuss water pollution. We drove together. But he could not, would not, did not, speak into a microphone in front of a room full of strangers.

I couldn’t blame him. A “hearing” sounds judicial. The physical setup was unintentionally confrontational – experts in business attire peering down at the speaker. “Insiders” tolerating the humble offerings of “outsiders”.

This afternoon, “the public” was sternly warned that each of us would be limited to three minutes, and only one person from an organization might speak, though all were encouraged to submit comments in writing.

The hearing was announced for 2:30 pm, and that is when I arrived. I signed in and was told I was the fourth person to register to speak. Fine.

Then I was told the hearing would start at three, to allow for latecomers. What?! This is not a notoriously unpunctual part of the world. This is a college. We do things more or less on time. The +/- is about five minutes. (Okay, nothing actually starts early, but neither is anything very late.) So there went half an hour of my precious time. I could have stayed where I was, at my desk.

Then the hearing convened. We were welcomed. A brief video was shown. Then we heard from an expert. She told us about the disease in question. She gave statistics and introduced some vocabulary. She said she wanted us to be in the “right frame of mind”. Why did she assume anything AT ALL about my “frame of mind”, much less that it needed correction?

Then we heard from six members of the state commission on said disease. They were mercifully brief, but there went another fifteen minutes.

The amount of background provided seemed to imply that the commission figured we were relatively ignorant.

By the time the first member of the public spoke, 75 minutes had elapsed from the announced starting time. The panel chose to respond to EACH SPEAKER. A judgement call. I don’t think it was a good decision in this case. A little clarification does no harm, but “response” can easily drift into “correction”, telling the speaker he or she didn’t get it right. That’s not the point. The commission said they had come to LISTEN, and that’s what they should have done. If an error or misperception was really important, they would easily be able to contact the speaker about it later on.

Around 4 pm, I rose and spoke. I was asked one quick question. Wanting to leave but also wanting to show respect for the other speakers, I sat back down.

There were only two more speakers for a total of six. SIX! The hearing need not have lasted more than half an hour. Each guest could have been allowed five minutes! Presentations by experts and commission members could have been offered afterwards for those who wished to stay. Or, better yet, the most interested and motivated participants (on both sides of the process) could have sat down together for a REAL CONVERSATION. We could have gone to the coffee shop together.

This well intended commission will be holding more meetings at other locations. I hope they change their format. Getting public input is difficult, but worthwhile.

Sex clubs, convenience stores and “The Wawa Way” by Howard Stoeckel

This is the story behind MY Wawa in Galloway Township, NJ. The one in the Cologne neighborhood.

I recently posted a link to a friend’s comments on “The Wawa Way”. (Read it if you never heard of Wawa.) The book was published to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this chain of convenience stores.

I’m a Wawa regular (if not exactly an addict), and a few weeks ago my morning coffee was free, in celebration of said anniversary. And “The Wawa Way” (subtitled “How a Funny Name and 6 Core Values Revolutionized Convenience”) appeared beside the checkouts. I grabbed a copy for a birthday gift.

Moving through the line, I heard the young man working at the register try to convince a customer that the very Wawa in which we stood had been RIGHT HERE for 50 years! I got the giggles and walked out laughing. I know the real story.

I think the oldest Wawa in our area dates back to 1975. It’s a tiny store (no gas pumps, no bathrooms) in a town four miles down the road. Yes, it’s still there, unchanged, with just eight parking spots.

In 1980, I took a job with the county public health agency, supervising (among other things) food service sanitation. I shortly realized the restaurant inspectors were snickering about certain facilities. One was a “health club” that seemed to operate on a “clothing optional” basis. The proprietor greeted inspectors without a stitch on. The club was called the “Avant Gard”. Their food service was impeccable. No food related hazard to public health was found on the premises.

One day a local resident got a surprise. A relative from a few states away called to taunt “You’ve got a sex club in your town!” Say what?? The relative sent a clipping advertising party space, fantasy rooms, adult fun, etc. Yes, it was the Avant Gard. We aren’t so far from Atlantic City (at that time the only legal gambling venue on the east coast) which may have generated the demand for these services. But they were carefully NOT advertised locally.

There followed a mighty tempest in our Township. How had this happened? Who issued a business permit? What defines a health club? The proprietor claimed that sex is healthy… Public debate accelerated, leading to the memorable statement by an elected official, “We don’t want kinky sex in Galloway Township!”

The Avant Gard couldn’t take the heat. The health/sex club closed, and the building became a corporate training location.

I moved to my present home in Galloway, near the intersection of Route 30 and Tilton Road, in 1993. Around that time, a small Wawa appeared there, across from the corporate training location. “It’s a sign!” we said. We were meant to move here, and enjoy Wawa coffee.

A few years passed and “our” Wawa outgrew its location. It moved, in a much expanded version, across the street to the former location of Galloway’s one and only sex club.

Does any other Wawa have such an interesting land use history? I doubt it!

I like Wawa for its coffee, and because somebody there has a sense of humor. I sent them a copy of this post. They thanked me cheerfully, and gave me a twenty dollar gift certificate.

Everybody talks about…the weather

The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the volcano that darkened the world and changed history by W Klingaman and N Klingaman.

Here we sit worrying about global WARMING… But global cooling could be just as bad! One message of this book is that there’s a good deal we don’t know about atmosphere and climate. Research should be supported.

In 1815, Mount Tambora in Indonesia exploded. Dirt and dust were flung into the upper atmosphere. The particles were big enough to block sunlight and too small to drop rapidly to earth. So the next year, the world’s weather was cold and stormy. Many areas experienced frost in every month of the year 1816. 

I’m from New England, so I paid particular attention to what was written about Maine and the surrounding areas. It was grim. Crop after crop was destroyed after planting, or before harvest. One consequence was the exodus of many residents, who decided to leave their rocky farms and head west.

One chapter of this book is entitled “Poverty and Misery”, and that sums it up. In Ireland, as hunger spread, civil authorities bemoaned that fact that the Irish clung to their habits of charity and community. They continued to shelter (and try to feed) wandering beggars. The beggars had fleas, which carried typhus. As people died, their families hosted traditional wakes, which offered another opportunity to spread disease. Along with food crops being lost, the Irish had difficulty harvesting the turf/peat they used for fires, so they were cold as well as hungry.

This book makes clear the changes that have come with improvements in communications and science. Nobody knew why summer never came in 1816. The extent of the problems wasn’t clear. The authors believe problems also arose in Asia and elsewhere, but there’s no documentary record.

We are fortunate to be able to predict some disasters. Imagine if we hadn’t know that Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy were coming! The loss of life would have been (even more) staggering. 

This book is well written. No scientific background is assumed. I would have liked a little more meteorology, but the history is detailed and interesting. Read and enjoy!