Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Candidate Posts - Pt IV

A government’s one and only function is to make the lives of the governed more pleasant. Its only reason for being is to remove the things that annoy us and increase the things that please us. It is there to enhance not just the lives of the few but of the many. And government becomes dysfunctional when it doesn’t know or care what the majority of its constituents really want.

Some would argue quite convincingly that the SPI town government at this time is borderline dysfunctional and that it is crucial that new, more responsive board members be elected in May. Candidates who limit their communications to pachangas and other small groups of like-minded friends are suspect - fairly or not - of telling those small groups whatever it takes to get votes.

The town council form of government has been around for a long time. Community members elect their representatives and then hope for the best. Accountability shows up 2 or 3 years later in the form of another election. Like the electoral college, this system is a hold-over from the days when most of the “common folk” had no or only limited access to breaking news or detailed position statements from the candidates. These constituents had little opportunity to interact directly with the government and had to trust their elected representatives to speak up for their interests.

The ubiquitousness of the internet has changed everything, of course. Now news and opinions can be posted nearly instantaneously in a place where almost everyone can read and respond. This is a marvelous tool for a true democracy to have and I for one can’t wait to see how local government will evolve as a result.

Clearly the effects are already being felt: Witness exhibit A -- the SPI Forum, imperfect as it may be. (More on that in the next installment!) I understand that the new BOA Boardroom is chock full of gadgets that will allow meetings to be recorded and broadcast on the internet and/or TV. I think it is past time to insist that this system be put into action, giving all SPI stake-holders near and far an opportunity to see our elected officials in action.

Then, once we get the meetings truly open to all, we need to fire up the Brain Trust Forum.

We have a lot of very smart people in this town: Folks who know a lot about building codes, who understand parking issues, who have developed a real appreciation for local flora & fauna and how to best protect it; people who have great ideas for marketing the island; people who understand municipal finance way better than I do (quite a lot of those, probably) and people who know a lot about beach erosion or traffic patterns or sand and sand sculpture contests (that would be me!) These smart people can’t all be alderpersons, because they also have to make a living or spend time with their families or go fishing. However, we are crazy stupid if we do not figure out a way to tap into all that knowledge and experience by making it easy as pie for those smart people to spill the beans.

Next: How I Would Do It

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Blogger Sam said...

I think you have a wonderful idea about the "brain trust" and while it has always been here on the Island, people intuitively suspect anything that sounds like the "intelligencia" or a core group of master-thinkers. It is important to leverage the good idea from the locals ... another to make it an institution.

I know what you meant but just want to clear the air. An exchange of ideas has been happening in various forms and even on Jason's Forum, but hard to bring together so we get a balanced view.

For example, several folks like Kirk, Phillip, and Tara do not care to talk on blogs at all. They have two good reasons and without defending them let me at least say what they can or may be:

1. Conversing electronically with more than 2 Alderman, even however remote, can be considered a violation of the Open Meetings Act (only if decisions are made)

2. Telling people what you mean can be a liability if you haven't make up your mind.

Fred Mallet told me about both and how Number 2 can be difficult because you can appear to be a flip flopper - to me a sign of intelligence but to others a sign of weakness.

So while some will sit quietly without a decent discussion comment and just a quick vote, I do respect people who go through a reasoned thought process no matter how convoluted. And that's what we're missing here on SPI, the reasons and justifications for making any decision unless it was "Johnny-on-the-spot" shooting from the hip.

Maybe that brain trust could help there. Surely, if the townspeople knew about the complete story and the math about the parking spaces boondoggle last year, I would predict a different outcome. /sam

7:14 PM  

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