Give government the gift of good grief
December 10, 2013
By Peter Clark
Budget season ended last month. You missed it. You missed many graphs, many charts, many numbers, many questions and many answers. You also missed the opportunity to take part.
You know that saying, “If you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain?” That should apply to civic action and education in general, especially regarding local government. If you don’t recognize the many ways the city tries to cultivate civic interaction, then you lose out on a chance to both learn how your tax dollars are spent and complain about how the council decides to spend them.
From social media alerts, two public hearings and five open work sessions, only one citizen stood up to speak. That’s pretty poor representation for Issaquah’s 31,000 residents.
The city outdid itself this year on community outreach for the budget. It live-televised the many work session meetings on its ICTV 21 channel and posted the meeting on its YouTube page the very next day. On top of that, the council allowed for public comment in each of these meetings.
The one person who did speak during the whole cycle gave an excellent example of what to say. A woman from the South Cove neighborhood voiced a long heard complaint about the need for sidewalks or bike lanes along West Lake Sammamish Road to the state park. She wanted to see money in the budget used for this project.
Not only did the council hear her out, but also the topic was immediately put on the table for budget consideration. They actually spent a good amount of time weighing the funding. Sadly for the citizen, council members decided to hold off on the project until it went through the normal process. However, the correlation is clear, the resident’s problem became the council’s.
My concern rests in many residents’ continued distrust and skepticism of government action. The administration outlined in clear terms where it gets its money and how it plans to spend it. The council actively asked many questions of its own and demanded answers from the administration about specifics. Given this exposure, I believe even cantankerous citizens might understand city decisions better. Yes, it was drier than a wood stove on a cold day, but it was also important.
Don’t worry, plenty of room exists for distrust and skepticism, and it always should. I just think it should be grounded and in dispute of facts the city openly presents.
Of course, these things take time and life is busy. My high horse does not want to tread on those who have no time for tedious government. I merely submit that citizen complaints have a valuable role in society, so long as they have facts behind them and are given directly to the government.