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Fitzgerald: Police reform town hall to feature local residents

Shane Fitzgerald
sfitzgerald@couriertimes.com
The Intelligencer

The 2018 and 2019 Courier Times and The Intelligencer reader advisory panels provided valuable input to our editors and staff — then and now — as we have kept in touch with many of those members.

The panels consisted of 12 people from across the political and economic spectrum and met monthly to talk about the state of local journalism and to give them an inside baseball look at our operation and the challenges our industry faces.

I thoroughly enjoyed working with those groups and vowed that someday we'd get the bands back together again.

What was so valuable about those groups, despite their differences politically and economically, is that they could have civil, meaningful discussions without tearing each other down.

So we're getting the bands back together on Saturday Aug. 15, in a town hall-style event to discuss police reform as we partner with Common Ground Solutions, a organization that has hosted several similar community events throughout the country.

Here's how Common Grounds Solutions defines itself: "Partisanship is at an all-time high, and it’s holding our nation back. On issues like health care, immigration, debt, and taxes, our political discourse has become so divisive that we cannot find the path to compromise and agreement. But there must be a place in the middle where we can meet, work together, and get something done to improve the lives of Americans.

"Common Ground Solutions has big goals: to increase civic engagement; improve the quality of political discourse; highlight real-world stories of people working together across political lines; and forge moderate, commonsense solutions to our biggest challenges. We believe that the power to govern is not a prize to be won, but a responsibility to be used wisely and preserved for generations to come. The first step toward fulfilling that responsibility is finding common ground."

Our advisory panels will be joined by our Editorial Board members, who also represent multiple points on the political spectrum. We also will be joined by several leaders in the minority community to whom I reached out with the help of our staff, Natalie Joy Kaye of On Demand Programs and Events, and my friend Sandra Clark, who is the Vice President, News and Civic Dialogue, for WHYY-AM radio.

The assembled group of about 55 people spent 30-35 minutes on a thorough survey that gathers data on how people view police reform. You can take the survey here to see what it was all about.

Common Ground Solutions, through its partner the Program for Public Consultation of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, gathers the data from the select local group, compares it with national data it has gathered, shares with the town hall participants and then facilitates the discussion with a local Congressional figure, in this case Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1, Middletown. PPC is also surveying thousands of voters in his district as part of this event.

We will record the session and share it with the public and make available the data gathered in hopes of spurring further meaningful discussion in the community.

This endeavor was supposed to take place in April, in person. The world has changed drastically since then. We have pivoted to police reform as our topic of discussion because it encompasses so many aspects of our society and is a jumping off point to touch on many community issues.

Common Ground Solutions along with another non-partisan partner, Voice of the People, have held several of these in other communities. Given the 50/50 political nature of our county, we are an interesting case nationally.

George Floyd's brutal death certainly sparked an emotional reaction and significant discussion. It's important to keep that discussion going. And that was a lot of the thought put behind this topic. Having a data-driven, practical discussion seems like a good idea at this time and in this place.

Shane Fitzgerald is Executive Editor of the Bucks County Courier Times and The Intelligencer and serves as the state editor for USA Today Network's 14 Gannett publications in Pennsylvania.