21 February 2007

What Part of Government Don't They Understand?

Our next River Journal will include a story covering the city of Clark Fork's desire to increase zoning regulations and ordinances from the currently-existing nine-page document to a 78-page document (and hold your hats when you find out the kinds of things they want to regulate!). So I won't belabor the points here. But I do want to look at a related issue here, so consider this a sidebar story.

Over 80 residents showed up at last night's "workshop" on the new proposal. In a town of 530 residents (including children) that represents a substantial portion of the public. And city council expressed dismay and resentment at the public's concern.

"Where have you guys been in the year and a half we've been working on this?" is a paraphrase of their attitude.

You hear the same at almost every governmental meeting when something's going on that the public doesn't like, from school boards to planning and zoning to county commissioners. "Why didn't you come to meetings before this? Why didn't you get involved?"

There's a lot of answers to those questions, and, in a perfect world, all people would be interested, informed and involved in every aspect of governmental regulation of their lives. In fact, we'd all "do government" like New Hampshire or Maine or whichever state it is that votes in "town hall meetings."

In the real world, right here in Idaho, people don't have the time and generally don't have the interest or the specialized knowledge. They're more than content to let the people they've elected to make those decisions make those decisions.... until the people they elected make decisions they don't like.

That's life. When will people in government understand that? Quitcher whining already - you knew it was this way before you ran for office and if you didn't like it, you shouldn't have run!

The truth is, all governmental entities struggle with how to get information out and public participation in (though some, it must be said, would prefer not to have the public participation at all). And another truth is, they rarely do much of anything to accomplish that that takes the slightest bit of effort on their part, unless they've decided beforehand that they want to nip any public outroar in the bud. (Which is why you see lots of heavily advertised public meetings right before levies are run.)

Take Clark Fork, for instance. They say they post meeting notices on the wall of the post office. And they said they put a notice in with the water bills. (although it was pointed out that the notice in the water bill said only a meeting would be held, while giving no date, time or location for it).

Clark Fork is served by three newspapers - The Spokesman Review, The Daily Bee, and the River Journal. I'm not sure about the Spokesman, but the Bee and the RJ both post calendar notices at no charge. And speaking for myself - the River Journal - not only have I never received a calendar notice, I've also never received a phone call saying, "Hey, Trish, we'd really like to get some information out on this and get some people involved. Could you do a story on what we're doing?" And I LIVE in Clark Fork!

Never once have I seen a city council member hanging out at the gas station or the grocery store or the local restaurant saying "we've got something in the works and I'd like a little feedback." They've also not approached the school and asked "can we put a meeting notice on that huge, new reader board you've got right in the middle of town?" (I don't know if the school would say yes, but the point is, you don't know if you don't ask.)

The truth is, one little sign posted down at Hay's gas station (or even on the post office wall) saying "ATTENTION CLARK FORK RESIDENTS! Your city council would like to increase our nine pages of ordinances/covenants by an additional 69 pages and we want your input!" would have gotten them all the public attendance they wanted.

It's time for government officials to grow up and quit their caterwauling about lack of interest/involvement. If you truly want public involvement, it's really not that hard to get.

1 comment:

MLove said...

I heard some more about the infamous overcrowded meeting at Clark Fork yesterday. That was during the luncheon at the Hope Hotel. I always know the lady but forget her name. She's so nice. She works at Hays gas station and worked at Gas n Go a few years back. Anyway, she told of her threat to get that crowd to vote 'em out of office cuz there were enough citizens there to do it that night. Sounds like a lot of good action up your way; it also sounds a little reminiscent of Sandpoint a few years back. They did as they damn well pleased in spite of the citizenry's wishes. Democracy, ain't it purty?

You missed a good gossip session at the Hotel.