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Citizenship in the Community req 3 - "difference of opinions"

One of the requirements for the Citizenship in the Community merit badge reads as follows,

“3. Do the following:
a. Attend a meeting of your city, town, or county council or school board; OR attend a municipal, county, or state court session.
b. Choose one of the issues discussed at the meeting where a difference of opinions was expressed, and explain to your counselor why you agree with one opinion more than you do another one.”

What if a scout attends a meeting, but there really is no difference of opinion about anything? For example, I once took one of my sons to a meeting of the school board of the district in which we live. The only item of business not on the consent agenda was the renewal of a contract to provide bus service. The contract had been put out for competitive bidding, but only the incumbent contractor had submitted a bid. The members of the Board listened to a half-hour presentation about the job the contractor was doing and was planning to continue doing, and they asked a few trivial clarifying questions and offered congratulations all around, but no one actually disagreed with anything anyone else had said. In the end, the motion passed by unanimous roll-call vote.

If a Scout unluckily ends up attending a meeting like that, is it like a Scout who goes fishing, trying to catch a fish for the Fishing merit badge, but only catches a turtle or a piece of trash? So he just has to find a different meeting and try again? Or would it be OK for the Scout, in his report, to say something like “someone sitting at home might have wanted to Council to not renew the contract, for such-and-such reasons…”?

(I actually did take my son to a City Council meeting a few weeks later, and the mayor had recently approved part of the budget but used his line-item veto to remove something, and the council-members heard public comment on whether they should override that veto, then discussed and voted on it. So he used the latter meeting to pass of the requirement. But I’d like to get some opinions in case it happens again, with some other Scout.)

The Guide to Advancement is clear. A requirement cannot be modified. I don’t see how a Scout could complete requirement B if there was no difference of opinion on any item at the meeting.

One tip I have heard it to have the Scout attend a meeting of the local planning commission. There are usually many differences of opinion at these meetings.

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We’ve run into the same issue with the Communication MB req 5:

My son went to several city council meetings over the past summer where everything was pretty much “inform and consent”. The only item in 3 months of meetings where there was any real disagreement was whether to hold the city manager’s performance review in person or via Zoom meeting…

We ended up going to another locality’s city meeting, where there has been some really serious infighting about allowing weed dispensaries. That was … enlightening … for a bunch of reasons. All I can say is there ain’t nothin’ like small town politics…

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Since the MB Handbook doesn’t expressly prohibit use of TV or video I would think you could stream a local City Council that actually has a good issue to discuss with he Scouts. The pamphlet doesn’t say attend in-person.

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As a counselor for this merit badge and a school board member, I always suggested to my scouts that they attend a specific meeting of my board. I could always find something to disagree about on our agenda. Normally, I would warn the board president about what I was going to do, but all of the board members were well aware of my Scouting involvement and expected the performance whenever a uniformed Scout was in attendance.
Obviously, this direct approach won’t work for most other folks. I think that being in tune with local issues so that a citizen can raise his voice when needed is an important aspect of this requirement, and I always try to make that point when the Scouts explain their observations and opinions to me.

I would go by the word “attend”, and wouldn’t approve just watching the meeting on Cable TV, or streaming it with a view-only service like Ustream or some TV station’s Facebook Live. However, where the meeting is actually conducted by Zoom, and the Scout is joined by the same way that members of the public who could make public comment are, I’d count that as meeting the requirement.

And if the Scout needs to consult the official minutes of the meeting or watch a recording of it to prepare to explain it to his counselor, I don’t see anything wrong with that.

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Even before COVID, a lot of our local city council meetings that had contentious issues were nearly impossible to actually attend, without standing outside the chamber and watching it on a screen anyway. I know of scouts whose counselors have approved watching via web livestream for this reason. At least you can see and hear what’s being said over the stream vs the racket in the peanut gallery trying to watch the same five screens. It also has the advantage that the scout can view the documents being discussed at the same time.

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