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Can you hear me now? Now?

Speak up. Let your voice be heard.

As Hubbard County undertakes a study of its space needs, one glaring weakness has emerged.

The boardroom, home to most county and city bodies of government, is an atrocious place to conduct important business.

Poor acoustics are only part of the problem. It is unfortunate that at times, our elected and appointed leaders stumble, fumble and mumble their way through their duties.

We expect better.

The boardroom table is equipped with microphones that should be used. City and county leaders and board members should exert a conscientious effort to use them.

If you must read from documents pertinent to the meeting, a little rehearsal would go a long way to helping the public follow and understand the proceedings. At times, some boards conduct business as if the subject matter is foreign to them, too.

Clarity also applies to citizen participants. Step up to the microphone provided for you, too. Don't try to shout your concerns or questions from the back of the room.

Democracy doesn't work when leaders and the citizenry can't communicate, particularly in trying times when we are discussing multi-million dollar public works projects that affect our wallets.

That was apparent Tuesday night during the public discussions of the $4.5 million Main Avenue reconstruction.

City leaders did use their microphones, but the feedback was ear-piercing at times. Alternately an annoying buzz permeated the meeting.

A further distraction, of citizens entering and exiting the room and conversing in the halls, contributed to the overall inability of people to hear, and council members to listen.

Then there are the folks who insist on conducting their own strategy sessions in the back of the room, sometimes talking above the people conducting the meeting.

Citizens have left highly charged meetings in the boardroom complaining they couldn't hear or decipher the proceedings.

It discourages them from participating in government, and democracy breaks down when apathy sets in for whatever reasons.

Disgruntled stakeholders wonder why they bother attending meetings, sure their leaders aren't listening to them.

So, let's all pledge to conduct our business in a more professional manner from hereon. Speak clearly into the microphone. If there is a feedback problem, call a building supervisor to remedy it before the proceedings have begun.

Be courteous, citizens. Don't whisper through meetings, preventing your fellow citizens from hearing.

Government is vitally important business, especially when the discussions center around scarce tax dollars and deep cuts to programs and services.

We need to hear, and our leaders need to hear us.

President Obama, in a Jan. 21 memo on open government, said:

"Public engagement enhances the Government's effectiveness and improves the quality of its decisions. Knowledge is widely dispersed in society, and public officials benefit from having access to that dispersed knowledge."