WMU News

April 6 National Issues Forum set to give voice to area citizens

March 24, 1998

KALAMAZOO -- Kalamazoo area residents will get an opportunity to share their views on how to make government work better and be more responsive to the needs of its citizens in a community gathering set for Monday, April 6.

"Governing America" is the topic of a National Issues Forum that will take place from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. in the main auditorium at Kalamazoo Valley Community College. The free public event is open to all interested persons.

The event is being organized and sponsored by the Institute of Government and Politics at Western Michigan University, the Department of Social Science at KVCC and the Forum for Kalamazoo County. Organizational assistance also is being provided by individuals at Kalamazoo College, Healthy Futures, the Fetzer Institute, the Kalamazoo Gazette and the office of U.S. Rep. Fred Upton.

According to Dr. James M. Butterfield, WMU associate professor of political science and director of the Institute of Government and Politics, discussions in Kalamazoo will focus on the idea that the American people feel disconnected from their government. Approaches proposed to resolve that problem will include making government more responsive through reform, through government decentralization and privatization of some services, or by increasing citizen participation in government.

"This is an attempt to increase both the quantity and quality of public deliberation on policy issues," Butterfield says. "Topics will be framed in a non-partisan way to promote constructive discussion on contentious issues."

National Issues Forums are a series of public meetings convened by organizations around the nation to look at public policy issues in a constructive, non-partisan manner. The Kettering Foundation, an Ohio-based research institution, is the umbrella organization through which the idea of holding such forums was conceived. Each year, the National Issues Forum organization proposes a series of topics for public discussion around the nation. Results from the deliberations around the country are reported annually through the "Public Voice" program on PBS stations and also are published by the foundation.

The foundation will gather information from citizens attending the Kalamazoo event and add it to data collected in some 100 communities around the country. A report on the outcomes of the "Governing America" meetings will be released by the foundation in June.

The Kalamazoo forum will be conducted by Ann Hinsdale-Knisel of Michigan State University's Extension. She is a member of the National Issues Forum organization. John Dedrick, a program officer for the Kettering Foundation, also will be on hand for the event.

The forum will start with a general session, Butterfield says, and then will break up into smaller discussions groups. An ending general session will allow participants to compare notes on their discussions. Hinsdale-Knisel, moderator of both the opening and closing sessions, and all of the small group moderators will be persons trained in keeping the discussions unfolding in a non-partisan manner.

Butterfield says the forum can accommodate up to 200 people and it is open to anyone, regardless of their city or county of residence. Among those already committed to attending are student groups from Kalamazoo College, WMU, KVCC and seven area high schools.

For more information about the event, persons should contact Butterfield at (616) 387-5696.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland; cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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