Shrewd Awakenings: On Representative Government

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In a Representative Democracy the people elect officials to represent them when creating laws and policies.  It burns me when I hear people leave out the “representative” part of our type of Federal Governance system.  It makes a very big difference in our core principle of government by, of and for the people.  Our Founders knew that if the Federal Government became a monolith then it had to be a system of many voices.  One person, one vote is not enough to counter tyrannical behavior from a perceived majority.  States, counties, towns, neighborhoods, on down to the individual…All have special needs and wants and all must have a way to ensure happiness at home where the responsible individual is productive in his or her own right.

I served a two year term as a City Councilor representing one of seven wards in a nonpartisan capacity.  Several things motivated me to run for this seat:

  1. The property tax rate in my city rose 18% in one year.  I witnessed the complete awe in my neighbor’s faces and we all wondered how such an oversight could have happened.
  2. I became involved in a bipartisan civic group that challenged this increase and we learned quite a bit about the proper functions as well as the dysfunctions of our city government.
  3. Having served as president of other organizational boards as well as chaired numerous church and civic committees, I was very familiar with democratic processes, never missing an opportunity to also participate in strategic planning workshops and community forums.
  4. With my children grown and my business running smoothly I had the flexibility to contribute my time to City Council demands.
  5. I wanted to be part of the solution instead of whining about the problem.  As they say, whiners never prosper.  Life long learners need apply!

As a councilor I then became more aware of how dysfunction at the governance level had occurred:

  1. Previous councilors who had my seat were not proactive about getting to know their ward constituents and businesses.  Communication was not a priority and therefor transparency was lacking.  It was no wonder that citizen apathy had set in.
  2. The long standing councilors had not read their governing manual which I discovered was outdated and in need of many revisions.  Had the Council been more educated about their powers, perhaps the City Administrator would not have been allowed to cross certain ethical boundaries (which he had done many times in my presence).  Council duty #1…Administrations always need to be held accountable!
  3. The “conservative” councilors who continually voted no to any type of spending also had no ideas about how to control spending, creatively raise revenue or educate themselves on our many cash reserves and how they could be used, nor did they ever probe the City Administrator about his ideas for raising revenues beyond direct taxation.  Our commercial base had become so small that the tax burden was placed significantly on home owners.
  4. All previous Councils blindly left their faith in city operations to a City Administrator who did not have an annual review process by the Mayor and Council.  This was another aspect of how the Council did not understand their power…Perhaps this was intended by the Administrator?
  5. Because of #4, this left a power vacuum.  The Mayor’s role became more controlling which set the Ward representatives up for political gamesmanship and subsequent dysfunction.  Please tell me how this works for constituents?

How many other cities are run like this and is it no wonder that Washington DC is in a similar mess?  Representative government only works when those who are elected know their functions within the governmental system.  This education begins at home as well as in our schools.  Communication and transparency are critical to having an engaged public.  When we elect representatives we must be confident that they understand their roles and responsibilities otherwise we can wind up with a vacuum of leadership ripe for dysfunction and control.  Is the United States headed in this direction?  Here are some of my observations:

  1. Congress seems oblivious to their responsibilities.  They are allowing the State’s to slowly undo federal laws and the Administrative branch to spy on its citizens.  Where is their oversight?
  2. Presidents can be too loyal to special interests.  Whether because of donor cash or partisan concerns, Constitutional protections for the nation as a whole are ignored by a passive Congress. 
  3. The press is complicit in political gamesmanship.  Reporting has become less factual and more based on hearsay and emotions which tend to keep the more astute public frustrated and disengaged…A sure way to continue apathy amoung certain voters.
  4. Civil protections are being reframed as special protections.  A public that is divided into categories conveniently focuses attention away from core values that unite people.  These core values are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.  Forgetting this principle allows the Constitution to be rendered ineffective and useless thereby creating a vacuum for tyrannical control.

In conclusion, I recommend that we must start to reframe “special protections” in a way that connotes faithful service to others.  Government cannot solve social issues.  Faith and service based organizations must do this work along side of their communities.  This is the real meaning of church and state separation.  How can we strengthen this very important message?  I will explore this in my next blog…

 

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