Being Nowhere
Circus Tradition
Class Politics
Enormous Loss
Haditha Tragedy
Homeless Being
Illegal Camping Ordinance
Journalism Priviledge
Keep Us Safe
Leadership and the People

Lesser Evils
Lynching Iraq
News for Working People
Nice Cops
Palestinian Democracy
Poison Fish
Political Communication
Selective Memory
Vestigial Entrances

Political Communication

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.

Elected 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 of action.

The 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.

In the interest of brevity I will use only one issue to illustrate these suggestions.

Sarasota 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.

In 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.

Notice 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.

It 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.

The 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.













©Al Katz • Prof. of law SUNY, Buffalo, 1969-1989 (ret.)