You elect your local ... be they for your village, your schools or your library. For most people, the closest contact they ever have with their elected ... is at the ballot box. Maybe you
You elect your local trustees, be they for your village, your schools or your library. For most people, the closest contact they ever have with their elected officials is at the ballot box. Maybe you saw an ad on a neighbor's lawn and the picture looked good, so you voted for that candidate. Or maybe you actually do know the candidate personally and you like him/her. So you check the box to vote him/her into office.
I happen to be an elected member of the Nippersink Library District board of trustees. The reason I am there is that I've always loved my local library; I've always found it to be a warm place (or cool in the summer) where I can pick up the local newspaper and read it - relatively undisturbed. Or I can peruse the latest novels. I can also borrow DVD's and audio books to keep me company when I'm in my car. And I felt that I needed to become involved in my community. I'm always amazed at the number of different things you can do at the library. So I ran for the office and won (unopposed, I should add).
I have also attended village and school board meetings. But that was always when I had a burning opinion to relay to the boards. For instance, in 1999 the village of Richmond was scheduled to vote on whether a parcel of land next to my property should be annexed and rezoned. I was against it. So were a whole bunch of other citizens in Richmond who attended that meeting. The village board passed the annexation over our objections, or, it seemed to me, to spite our objections.`
I had similar experiences with our school boards. No matter how many people showed up for a particular meeting, we always felt that the school board trustees turned a deaf ear on our appeals. Or as the grade school superintendent said, "We agree to disagree!" Well, hot damn!
Earlier this month (July 2002) the Richmond Zoning Board agreed to recommend the annexation and rezoning of a hotly contested piece of property to the village board. Two citizens, Rommy Lopat and John Drummond, took it upon themselves to hire a few high-priced attorneys and city planners. They attempted to give the village board a different perspective about the annexation than what the board was hearing from the developer the Village President and the Zoning Board President.
This was a beautiful thing to watch. Fifty or so village residents filled the meeting room and they were allowed to express their opinions. The result was that the board voted to delay their decision until September so that they might be allowed to review the information that was presented.
At first I was elated. Then reality set in. I began to realize that to fight power you need power. Money equals power. What if Rommy Lopat and John Drummond could not afford to bring in expert witnesses? I think the citizens would have been quickly rolled over and buried. This is the way, I realized, that government works. You must have power to be heard.
The awful truth is that I leave the meetings feeling that we had just done battle with the opposition. We always lost. I felt that the outcome was predetermined, that the board attitude is a bit condescending. I do believe that, generally, boards feel they have a duty to the public to help the public, but I think they also think that we citizens are uneducated and bothersome, like mosquitoes which must be squashed to be quieted.
Maybe your local boards DO listen to you. Maybe Richmond's boards are the rare exception. But I think not. I think that most boards around the entire country reflect the attitudes of the Richmond boards: the citizens are nuisances to be endured because the law says they must endure us.
Why are the boards so adversarial in nature? Does it have to be that way? Do we not, as taxpaying citizens, deserve to be listened to CAREFULLY and HONESTLY?
It's time to stand up and be counted, folks. Do go to your local board meetings, if only to show them that you are watching!