Local Government is Not a Spectator Sport

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If anything in the universe should be transparent, it is the work (or lack thereof) of local government. In the US, these include cities/towns, counties, port authorities, and other elected legislative officials and entities. 

If you were bored or intrigued 😉 enough to tune in to the live Web cast of the City of Redmond, Washington's Planning Commission (PC) tonight, or any other Wednesday between 7PM-10PM PST, I personally apologize for the lack of online exhibits. Most of the documents that we refer to during meetings ARE generally available in hard copy format at the Redmond City Council chambers where we meet.  If I have anything to say about it, most of these documents will soon be available online during the Webcast.

I have served as a volunteer member of Redmond's Planning Commission, which advises the Redmond City Council and Mayor on munincipal planning issues, for the last six months.  I am continually surprised by the counter-intuitively huge role that local government plays in the life of an average resident.  Like most folks, I grew up thinking that my federal government, which has ultimate authority in so many areas, is much more important than my local government.  The full extent of my ignorance in this regard is only now becoming clear.

A competent mayor is just as and perhaps more valuable than a competent president on a day to day basis.  If you care enough to educate yourself about and vote in national elections in the United States (I can't speak for those of you in other participatory democracies) you should take a little time to acquaint yourself with your local government and elected officials so that you can participate in local elections.

Why do I think local government is so important? Here's one for you: the City of Kirkland, WA, which abuts Redmond to the west, recently mandated that residents on certain streets install sidewalks at their own expense and by a certain date on the street facing portions of their property... The average cost of these improvements was somewhere around U$45,000.  When was the last time you heard that a federal government agency was demanding that a single family residence worth $300,000 be upgraded by 45 grand?  Proaction trumps reaction in the formation of public policy.  Democracy is not a spectator sport.

Speaking of which, Dave Winer says that he is "shopping for a candidate" who would adopt his techno-campaign regime (meetups.com/blogging/etc) whole hog. I get the feeling Dave does not do anything ala carte.  Dave thinks that he is more likely to find his perfect candidate at the local level and he's probably right.

Comments (6)

  1. If you go back and read the writings of the founding fathers, they believed that most authority should be in the hands of local government. Often now referred to as states rights, for some reason we seem to have forgotten the concept in this nation.

    In his inagural address, Jefferson said that we need "…a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government…"

    I am not a fan of Howard Dean but he is one of the first candidates in a long time who has spoken to the issue of less federal regulation. He is against federal gun control laws, he says that the laws needed in maryland are very different that those needed in Montana – a stance which I find to be really intellectually honest. I dont really care about gun control laws but I think when we can provide flexibility. On the other hand, the fed should get involved in certain areas – Sharpton makes the cogent that if we still had states rights as rule of the day, South Carolina would still have slaves.

    Oh well, Im done ranting.

  2. Tim Jarrett says:

    Korby: I live in Kirkland and hadn’t heard about the sidewalks ordinance. Pointer?

    Glad to know there are some Microsofties acting in the interests of their local community and getting into the actions of government. Too often I feel we who blog don’t get involved in the real world enough to effect any real change.

  3. Heh, I overstated the average cost a bit. But still… Here’s the story from 7/8/2003:


  4. Rich Knox says:

    Assessing property owners for street improvements is hardly new. I remember my grandparents having to pay for a sidewalk in the little South Dakota town I grew up in. Using this power to coerce property owners to pay for sidewalks somewhere else seems somehow wrong though. After making the payment, how is a home owner to know if and when sidewalks will ever be built in their neighborhood. If they choose to build their own sidewalk, then we can only imagine a patchwork of sidewalks to nowhere.

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