A caller to The Alliance Review not long ago made a remark directed at city candidates about their pounding the streets while campaigning and asked if they’ll be out there after they get elected. It sounds good, but the caller is missing an important point.
City residents need not take a passive approach and wait until the mayor or a council person visits their neighborhood. City officials are available to all city residents through mail, phone calls, emails and council attendance. All council meetings are public meetings by law and are — get this — open to the public. Any resident can attend any council meeting and has the opportunity to speak. The same is true of township meetings, which I cover for The Review.
I have seen a common occurrence at township meetings: most meetings are sparsely attended, with a small core group that always attends (hi, Skip) until a septic tank company wants to spread manure on a farm, heavy rains flood the area or hydraulic drilling companies are pushing their contracts. Most meetings see attendance by residents with specific concerns, which is how it should be, and trustees often read letters of thanks from residents, mostly to road and fire crews, but I detect in general a major lack of interest in government doings until something bad occurs.
I covered a recent town hall meeting with state Sen. Joe Schiavoni at Washington Township, organized by trustee Paul DelPuppo not as a township official but as a concerned citizen, and five residents attended. Joe took time out of a busy schedule, which included rushing to the airport after the meeting to pick up his wife, to speak to residents, giving in great detail his view of Statehouse happenings and making notes on residents’ concerns. This is government by the people, where people had the chance to speak to their state senator, and only five attended. I felt bad for Paul and Joe. Attendance was similar at an earlier town hall meeting with Rep. Mark Okey.
I covered many meetings this year where county officials practically begged residents to vote for the sales tax. The commissioners, members of the Sheriff’s Office, an attorney and county department heads took time from their evenings to speak at meetings, trying to convince voters of their sincerity, their dedication to restoring faith in county government and their commitment to the county. Nothing brings that across like sitting at a meeting where you can see the speakers. No amount of print can convey the facial expressions and inflections of tone that speakers evince in person. It’s easy to mistrust and blame a faceless name, to claim from your couch that none of those levies are necessary, but put those people in front of you, shake their hands and talk with them, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll begin to believe that not all government officials are corrupt office-grabbers who are in it only for the glory and the power.
If you think I’m trying to shame you into attending meetings, you’re right. I’m just as guilty of non-attendance in the past, and the only time I attended my township meeting was when we had well problems caused by digging in the road. But that was long ago, my Review writing has afforded a good education in local government, and because my job prevents my attending Plain Township meetings I read the meeting reports in a newspaper that covers Plain Township.
I also think it’s a shame that so few people vote. The turnout was 46 percent in Tuesday’s election, the highest turnout during an odd-year election since 1991. That’s a sad record. I don’t understand voter apathy. Whether you like the system or not, voting is the other way to influence politics. Yes, you have only one vote, but that’s a poor excuse. It’s cliched but it’s true: If you don’t vote, don’t complain. Better yet, if you don’t vote, change your ways and do so at the next election, and complain to your heart’s content. Bring your complaints to your local meetings, and see what a difference you can make.
On a completely unrelated note, I would like to wish all the best to all my veteran friends, especially ex-SP4 Betz.
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