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Doing The People's Business is Hard
Government Solving Problems Is More Than Soundbites And Posting On Twitter
Doing the people’s business is hard. It just is.
In a representative democracy, building consensus is difficult because of all of the competing interests. There is a continual struggle to balance the rights of individuals to exercise their freedom to do what they want and doing what is good for the community as a whole, even if it constrains some aspects of individual freedom.
In other words, it is hard to determine the balance between individual freedom and order within society. The scale is always moving from one side to the other and many interests compete to have a say in how the balance will be achieved.
Here is an example of how hard this is.
I live in the city of Louisiana, Missouri, a small town of about 3.300 people located on the banks of the Mississippi River in the northeast part of the state. It is a historic town with a proud past, but like many small towns in rural America, it has fallen on hard times.
Doing the people’s business is hard. It just is.
Recently, the city has been forced to deal with the recent trend in the building of “small” or “tiny” houses. In simple terms, these are dwellings that are designed for one or two residents and usually consist of a small living space, small kitchen and bathroom, and a small bedroom, usually some sort of loft bedroom.
The city was forced to deal with this issue because someone decided to drop one of these buildings on a vacant lot without first notifying the appropriate office of city government. In fact, the city only found out about this because a resident who lived across the street from the tiny house complained to the mayor.
Tiny houses were not even on the city government’s radar. Soon after the receipt of the letter of complaint, the emails flew, asking what the city was going to do in response.
I sit as chairperson of the city planning and zoning commission, a governmental entity that deals with these kinds of issues. After considerable discussion among city leaders, it was decided that the city had to write an ordinance that addressed this issue, and at the same time, figure out how deal retroactively with the current tiny house situation. As I responded to the mayor after being informed of the situation, “what a mess!”
This process isn’t as simple as it sounds. It isn’t a process where a single person is designated to write the new ordinance and then the city council votes on it. Rather, a long list of officials are involved in the initial development of the draft ordinance (in this case the mayor, city administrator, city code inspector, chairperson of the planning and zoning commission, city attorney, and chair of the city council ordinance committee), each with their own ideas with respect to what should be in the ordinance and how it should be written.
After an initial draft has been written, it is then presented to the city council for discussion, a series of meetings that are open to the public. Each council member can offer input and propose changes to the draft. In addition, the public is allowed to give their input and propose ideas. Often, these meeting can be very contentious and emotions can run very, very high. They are not for the faint of heart. It usually takes a number of these sessions to complete this part of the process.
After all of this, changes are made to the draft and the final ordinance is written and reviewed by the city attorney, any additional changes are made (usually language issues), and then the ordinance is presented to the city council for discussion and vote (the ordinance must be read and voted on three times before final approval).
I tell this story because it is a classic, long story short, example of the challenges involved in doing the people’s business. It is a long process (meetings talking about the minutia of structural base plate anchoring, square footage, lot size, etc.) and there are a large number of landmines that can derail the effort. In this instance, the passage of a final ordinance will probably take at least six months (if everything goes right).
Unfortunately, many in government, especially those at the polar extremes of both political parties, aren’t interested in investing the time and effort needed to govern.
Doing the people’s business is hard and takes dedication to the process and an investment in time and effort. As one moves from the local to the state, and then the national level, the issues become more complex, the actors more numerous, and the process and effort to execute more time consuming and complicated.
Unfortunately, many in government today, especially those at the polar extremes of both political parties, aren’t interested in investing the time and effort needed to govern. Rather, they are more invested in creating chaos, throwing bombs and destroying things, fighting, bickering, name calling and owning the other side.
Those who go on cable news, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms and do these sorts of things aren’t interested in any attempt to problem solve. Rather, all they care about is advancing their political profile, their status on social media, their ability to sell books, fundraise, and grift off of those people who embrace their garbage and want to be entertained by the reality show that passes for American politics, all in the name of gaining and keeping personal political power.
The people deserve better than this. They deserve a government that actually functions and works to make communities, states, and the nation a better place to live.
They don’t need the small minority of crazies that now seem to control the process.
The American people need to retake control of our experiment in representative democracy. But that takes hard work, too.
How do we do this?
Citizens need to be informed about what is going on. They need to engage, get involved, go to meetings, write letters, and perhaps most importantly, get involved in elections by learning about candidates running for office and then getting out to vote.
Doing the people’s business is hard and time consuming. It’s time for politicians to make the investment in time and effort. It’s time to end performative politics.
Citizens need to engage, become more informed, and get involved, holding elected officials and government accountable for their actions, both by the vote and through activism, when appropriate.
We also need to make this whole process a process guided by the principles of civility, humility, patience, charity, respect, and the desire to create positive outcomes and win/win situations. It is time to end the bomb throwing, chaos, and dysfunction.
We, as a nation, deserve a government that works for us.