Elected officials could do a better job representing their constituencies
if they would engage them more in confronting the problems of
the community. Too often the pattern is a formal hearing, an
action, and listening to the reaction to the action. Fencing
with interest groups is not the inevitable form of modern democracy.
officials can stimulate discussion and the formation of opinion
by raising questions and suggesting possibilities directly to
the people. First the situation needs to be explained; then
alternatives need to be explored; finally, officials may very
well suggest that citizens adopt a specific attitude or course
form of these communications are not mysterious and do not need
to be expensive or wildly creative. Commissioners can use traditional
newsletter, blab tv, personal contacts, meetings with neighborhood
groups, or the regretfully unused old soapbox that is set up
each week at first and lemon but never mounted.
the interest of brevity I will use only one issue to illustrate
faces some major social problems as a consequence of escalating
land and property values. Some of this escalation is due to
speculation. Speculation is a voluntary activity individuals
have a perfect right to engage in but could refrain from, and
they might be persuaded to refrain if their friends and neighbors
became convinced the activity was harmful to the community.
an appropriate form of communication, Commissioners can explain
to citizens the difference between speculation and investing
in a productive activity; they can explain the effect speculation
has on prices both on the upside and the downside; they can
explain to citizens the consequences of speculation for ordinary
people in a variety of economic situations [i.e., first time
home buyers, working class renters, downsizing retirees]. Commissioner
can explain to the public that these activities have significant
social consequences, and that the public should be discussing
whether well intentioned people should be doing a lot of it.
that no specific legislative proposal is necessary to initiate
this discussion; legislative proposals can be a consequence
as well as an occasion. Further, public policy can be formed
without legislation and may even be better off without it. But
the absence of a legislative agenda does not mean elected officials
are without a task. The task is not to rule but to govern, and
the first task of governing is identifying the dynamics of our
current situation. We have a Manager to run the show.
is important to emphasize that there is no reason for a Commissioner
to remain neutral in this process; neutrality one choice among
many. In the example above there is nothing inappropriate in
asking citizens to exhort friends, relatives or associates who
are engaged in land speculation to rethink their activity; to
consider the social consequences of their actions; to suggest
ways to discourage it or to temper its consequences. No all
legitimate activities are wise.
central point can be made by pointing to an opportunity missed:
in all the years residents of Janie Poe struggled with its conditions,
elected officials failed to address the community at large and
ask for its participation or assistance through letter writing,
direct action, strategic suggestions or volunteerism.
If leadership means anything it means focusing energy to achieve
a common purpose. At the moment, I fear, we are trying to plant
a vibrant economy in depleted political soil.