February 3, 2004 > Editorial
Election Year Thoughts
The election year is upon us and starting with our next edition, TCV will begin interviewing candidates and analyzing propositions and requests for funds from government. This is the time when we all need to participate and understand how we have been served by our elected and appointed representatives. Ideally, government is a transparent process in which all citizens can easily gain access to what their representatives are doing and how wisely tax dollars are being spent. Of course, practical considerations require much to go on without a public informant scrutinizing every decision made. However, when the citizenry is asked for its opinion, whether at the voting booth or at public sessions of boards and commissions, it is not the time to be absent or shy.
Work/study sessions that invite public inquiry and response should invite all citizens and allow the time necessary for people to voice their opinions. Recently, at several of these sessions held by the City Council of Fremont, one hour has been allotted to hear a presentation and give a few quick remarks. This is poor planning and defeats the purpose of a "work session." If we, the public are being invited to listen to a presentation without comment, then it is best to be honest about it. In most cases, an hour is simply not enough time. When an audience attends, it should be made clear how they can voice an opinion. Many may be unfamiliar with the procedures of a council session and if summarily dismissed because rules were not understood and followed, lines of communication are severed. The role of an elected representative is to assist their constituents. Standing aloof and demeaning constituents is a poor excuse for statesmanship.
When people are interested enough to come to a meeting and give their opinion, that should be honored. I know there are times when the same voices are heard again and again, often with the seeming intent to play back a recording of themselves on their VCR at a later date. But this is a democracy and we have rules that allow everyone to have a chance to voice their opinion. I am not advocating long meetings, but maybe less time can be spent in petty discussions of what happened on a holiday or vacation and more on substantive issues.
If the public wants to grandstand for the camera, at least there is a time limit. Council members need to be good listeners as well as orators. If there is a bit more listening and a bit less talking at some meetings, everyone can get to bed at a decent hour. When public input is important, it needs to be the top priority. After all, the public is at the top of the organizational chart of most cities.
Since, based on these organizational charts, the public is considered the ruling body of a city or public organization, it may be time to start thinking of our elected representatives and their appointees as part of our own system. Being at the top of the chart does not invite mindless criticism or opposition since anyone who has experienced an autocratic boss can attest that this is not the best way to get the most from an employee. Similarly, our employees need to be treated with respect and deference, yet the relationship should be clear. If something is being done poorly, we, the people, need to remind our employees and elected representatives that they have a responsibility to us. This is a clear decision at the polls, but is also a process that needs to happen continually. If we are treated poorly, then it is our responsibility to remind those we have hired either directly or indirectly that there is not only a desire for improvement, but a demand.
During this election year, we all need to ask our representatives tough questions about past decisions and future plans. If the status quo is okay, leave things as they are, but if not, make your voice heard. It may not be comfortable for anyone, but it is the only way to move forward.