Tuesday, December 4, 2012


(Those we think are driving the car won't be in it if it goes off the cliff)

Submitted to Shelton Blog by Tom Davis     Mason County Progressive

The re-election of Tim Sheldon for a third term as County Commissioner, Position #2 all but cements in place a paternal form of governance that percolates down to every Citizen Advisory Committee in Mason County.   

Let’s face it, some leaders in our community see themselves as beneficent benefactors; entitled by stature and endowed by heritage to maintain the status quo. As a result, every solution to every problem carries with it the same mindset that helped create the problem we’re attempting to fix. Citizen Advisory Committees, therefore, are the only means by which the public has any meaningful say in the process. But whatever objectivity those members may bring to the issues that come before them, it would be foolish to think decisions are not influenced by outside forces. 

At the end of the day, committee members are citizens first and advisory members second, and no one wants to be the lone voice that speaks out against the status quo. Adding to this problem are committee members that represent special interests, staff support, elected officials and ex officio watchdogs. They may or may not have a vote in the proceedings but leave little doubt as to their preferences.

There are all types of methods by which influence is exerted, and citizens come to the table unprepared for the pressures asserted by knowledgeable professionals with an agenda. In this way a member may be nuanced or even bullied into a decision.

On a larger scale, well-intentioned decisions that appear to benefit the community may turn out to enable a sea change of unanticipated consequences, as was the case with last year’s comprehensive plan amendment that allows Long Term Commercial Forest Lands to be rezoned for residential development (just ask the folks out at Lake Nahwatzel).

Still, there can never be too much citizen participation.  Case in point: County Commissioners’ mismanagement of labor negotiations that turned a budget surplus into a mandatory minimum ending balance. Only after the fiscal plane crashed, was the flying public asked to participate in the flight plan. Until then, negotiations were held outside of public view. Yet, when these conditions are challenged, reaction is quick and decisive: new regulations are adopted and existing regulations are manipulated in such a way as to keep the old machine churning out new mistakes. 
In this manner the status quo is carried forward on a carpet of what would appear to be clear reasoning, but is nothing more than blind allegiance to a corrupted system. And when things fail, as they so often do, the revisionists are all too ready to roll out the smoke machine and ask citizens to shoulder the consequences.  

For this reason, pitfalls notwithstanding, public participation at every level of government and at every stage in the policy process cannot be overstated.

Because, if things go really bad and it looks like we’re headed over the cliff, you can bet that the folks you thought were driving the car will not be in it. 

Photo: gettyimages.com  

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