Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Trying my best to keep politics off the 'boat...

... but I can't resist just a smidge of soapboxing this evening.

I just got back from presiding over our May village council meeting. I shan't go into the issues, but among other things I've spent a lot of the last month being accused by members of the public -- in both meetings and in the press -- of underhandedness because in our April meeting our council made a decision on an agenda item forwarded to us from one of our boards that literally ended with the words "... and send to council for a decision."

I seriously fear that a lot of people really don't understand how representational democracy works. It involves electing people to make decisions for your community as a whole. In fact, without going too deeply into some of the details, much of the system is set up to force your elected officials to make decisions. And decide they shall.

I also fear that the level of toxic cynicism about our government has grown to the point that some people are no longer capable of seeing when their government is working correctly. The level of cynicism and paranoia that I see on a regular basis around our village government is truly astonishing sometimes.

Mind you, other than a venomous 15-20 minutes of public comment, tonight's meeting was a good one filled with items of genuine import to our village. But good heavens, sometimes I get home and shake my head and wonder what has gone wrong with people's brains.

If it's been a while since you've done so, go attend one of your local government meetings, folks, and take a look at what they're up to for yourself. I think we'd all be a lot better off if more people really understood what's going on.


  1. Hear, Hear!

    Fortunately, it is only a small number that appear to be riddled with anger, paranoia and cynicism. What is remarkable is how politely, and even handedly you are able to handle them and keep the important business of the Council running smoothly.

    Isn't it amazing just how much of local government is run by volunteers? Volunteers who dedicate their time--and plenty of it--to helping make the community they live in as good as possible. Local government makes decisions that touch us daily: garbage collection; law enforcement; street lights, road work and stop signs; local parks; safe pathways for pedestrians in a world dominated by cars; ordinances that regulate buildings, fenses, driveways, docks, etc... All this run by those willing to volunteer lots of their time and most with very little ambition to higher office.

    John, I so respect your contributions. I complement your patience, management skills and underlying faith in the good that can come from every man and woman getting his or her say in a respectful manner. And this, even when they are accusing you of wrongdoing and worse.

    Hang in there, my sweet.

  2. Nobody ever said that the citizenry had to be competent. They just have to be.

    You're the one that has to be competent in the face of raging incompetence.

    Oh yeah... nobody ever said it was fair either.

    Keep on doing the right thing, and eventually even the clueless will figure out what's really going on... usually.

  3. Hey John,

    Do your best, keep it real, and always put your constituents first, and the system will prevail.

  4. Au contraire, Mike, an incompetent citizenry in a democracy eventually leads to incompetent elected officials, elected solely on the basis of their ability to pander, not their ability to rule justly.

    'Twas bread and circuses that doomed the Roman Empire, not the Visigoths.

  5. Your plea to get some adults to attend these public meetings is sensible. It's not public participation (without characterization) that you need, it is responsible public participation. The mood changes when you're backed from the benches by a sober voice.