I received a number of calls and messages in support of a recent column in which I took issue with the way some city councils handle recruiting.
One of those calls stood out because of a comment the caller made.
After complaining abut the council’s actions, she said, “It’s our fault.” I am paraphrasing slightly here, but she went on to say that if residents don’t like what their city government is doing, they should fill the council chambers during council meetings, ask questions, and let council members know how they feel.
There’s a lot of sense in that.
I often hear from people who are frustrated and discouraged by the process, and who feel their elected officials don’t listen.
It is true that some people in public office seem determined to promote their own agendas rather than listening to their constituents.
It is also true that many elected officials, especially in smaller cities, do want to hear from their constituents.
Unless your bartender or barista is also a council or board member, complaining about things in coffee shops or saloons is not likely to make a difference. Contacting elected officials directly, however, may help.
In my years of covering local government, I have seen the power of residents showing up and voicing their opinions. In some cases, councils have completely changed direction based on resident input.
The comment from the caller referenced above is typical of her generation.
Rather than blaming others, or saying “someone” should do something about a problem, they tend to accept their responsibility as citizens and ask, “what can I do to fix this problem?”
People from that generation often asked hard questions and held elected officials accountable.
The call stood out because I don’t seem to hear many people accepting responsibility for things these days.
It seems a lot of people blame others for problems and see themselves as being outside of the system.
That’s not how it’s supposed to work.
One of our first responsibilities is to vote.
As painful and burdensome as that may seem for people who feel like they’ve been left out of the process, it is a duty of citizenship.
Once an election is over, we can’t sit back and assume elected officials will always represent our interests.
We need to make sure they know what we think about things, and we need to do so before decisions are made.
I have attended countless council meetings, board meetings, open houses, and public hearings during which no residents showed up.
For those who are not comfortable, don’t have time, or who are unable to attend a public meeting, residents always have the opption to call or email their elected officials. In many cases, contact information for councilors and board members is available on city or school websites.
And yet, despite ignoring these opportunities to voice their opinions, some residents complain after action has been taken and decisions made.
By that time, it’s often too late.
In our system of government, it is essential for us to hold elected officials accountable. And, if we really care about what happens, we need to hold ourselves accountable too. We need to ask ourselves if we are fulfilling our responsibilities as citizens. Only then do we earn the right to complain if we’re not happy with the results.