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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Why Bother To Attend Public Hearings, Meetings?

As it seems to be all too often the case in Janesville, a special minority rules.
JG Excerpt:
JANESVILLE — Janesville Plan Commission members listened to a dozen residents speak Monday about a proposed ordinance change to allow backyard chickens before recommending against the proposal.
As reported in the Janesville Gazette, nine residents made the effort to attend the hearing and spoke in favor of allowing chickens (up to 4, no roosters) in Janesville yards, three spoke against it. Nine against three in Janesville means the nine lose.

Predictably, the Planning commission without any discussion or debate voted unanimously against the proposal, with one member abstaining. When given the choice, the position of city committees along with the opinions of city administration employees hold all the marbles against the wishes of the majority.

The commission’s negative recommendation goes to city council members, who are scheduled to discuss the issue and hold a public hearing at their meeting on Monday. But seriously, why bother? If city officials and some council members ask for citizens to attend meetings to voice their position, get it, and then reject it in favor of the opinion of city panels and employees, who are they listening to? Letters, phone calls, emails and text messages? If that's the case, why bother with the hearings?

The fact is, this recent decision is just another in a long line of dubious decisions handed down from Janesville City Hall against independent community organizers. Regardless of where you stand on chickens in the backyard, if you want to exact any kind of positive change in Janesville and you're not part of one of the many power cliques, you lose. In fact, the stronger your group becomes, and the more vocal it becomes, and the larger it becomes, the more opposition you'll face from their media marketing enablers. IF your group is truly independent, you'll be painted as negative and a interloping power grabber. It never fails.

Does anyone ever wonder why there are no community citizen groups independent of city government in Janesville? By this I mean the only citizen groups allowed any input or success in Janesville were eventually captured and used as an extension of the city administration. Friends of Riverside Park are one example, inventions like neighborhood action teams are another. The other point is, if your "movement" runs counter to the corporate rightwing legislative mission of Forward Janesville, you won't even see it coming regardless of how many people you bring to the meeting. Chickens in backyards and skateboarders in Palmer Park don't stand a chance. In fact, most of Janesville's (not all) council members will view a large independent turnout at a meeting as confrontational or unproductive. They'll vote against you just because of your numbers.

With some time and the right search words, you'd be able to find at least a half-a-dozen recent examples archived in this blog of the Janesville city council voting against the published and vocal consensus.

The structural process of Janesville city government has to change before any real democratic progress will ever come home to roost in Janesville. But don't expect that to happen any time soon.

Related reading: Non-partisan elections like throwing darts.

Note: This posting is the independent perspective and opinion of its author and is not a position statement on the "chickens in the backyard" issue.


Forward Our Motto said...

It does mean however that organized political parties cannot actively participate in their campaigns.

That's not exactly true. Political parties can make endorsements, donations, etc. They just can't put their name on the ballot. It might be a little late to do much about it now, but putting a little work into organizing for the next Spring elections is the right thing to do...if you want anything to change. These elections are not out of reach of regular folk.

Lou Kaye said...

There is a gray area there that's for sure. The Wisconsin SC would be a prime example. The word "cannot" is obviously too strong. Thanks.

Greenconsciousness said...

What structural changes are you suggesting?

Janesville votes for these people over and over. The slightly weird are not given a chance. Maybe we get the government we deserve. Because everything you have written in this post is accurate and insightful but now what?

The chicken movement and all other outcasts have to unite and pass the ballot initiative in WI -- being able to put your proposal up for a vote by citizens rather than politicians and subsequently the proposers having the right to significant oversight of the implementing regulations are the first two significant steps toward actual recovery of the democratic tradition in the US.

We must stop dependence on elected officials to do it for us because their votes reflect and will always reflect the interests of their class and their kind.

The primary action to restore power to the citizens is the implementation of a check and balance on elected politicians. That check on our dependence is our ability to put our own proposals on the ballot. And subsequently if the people's initiative passes by majority vote, to have oversight of the initiative's implementation. Later there will be ways to become enforcement monitors.

Lou Kaye said...

For starters, Janesville needs district representation with precinct captains - not an at-large council. Now you can say they too will cowtow to special interests, but each district will be competing for the attention it deserves, but not as a collective serving some single master plan drawn up by a hidden yet leaderless entity. Remember, we have no vision - no mayor. And it doesn't have to be partisan. That's really not the beginning to change however. The beginning of this change starts with the little people organizing into an independent coalition free of the current organized power brokers and media monopoly. I'm not saying it's going to be easy.

Anonymous said...

Great post! It'd be interesting to find out whether those text messages opened and read by city council members during official city meetings are subject to the open records law.

Greenconsciousness said...

I don't see how your structural change does any more than rearrange the chairs. I do not see any shift of power from the politicians to the people. IMO people are not going to give time and energy for no payoff again - only more of the same.

Most of us are done working for a political party or politician. Most of us have been through by-law changes that did not increase the weight given people's proposals in comparison to the interests of the elected politicians.

I lived in Milwaukee under a mayor and there was no more accountability - just another incumbent.

I will only work for change which actually gives me, as an individual, an alternate avenue to sell my idea to the majority of the voters in the town, city and state. I believe the only people who will work for structural change are those who will actually benefit from it.

Lou Kaye said...

Green, no government is perfect. And I believe changing to district representation does more than re-arrange the chairs - it creates 7 or 9 chairs instead of one chair comprised of 7. The only neighborhood being represented now is the corporate/upper crust. But our differences are part of the problem if each of us are only willing to join together to accomplish our own selfish interests. Your proposal to petition and referendum is part of the solution but it shouldn't end there. That is to say, the chicken people still might be rejected under a superior democratic system, but the chicken people must stay involved to insure others are given the same chance. Same with the skateboarders. Again, if people want to organize for their own little interest - we lose. It's to create a better system to remove the political, class and economic discrimination and bias we now have.

Forward Our Motto said...

Ah, I didn't know it was district wide. That can be rough to battle back against. District representation makes it easier for a regular person to run. Smaller districts make voter contact by the candidate (like door knocking) more important and limits the need for large amounts of money.

Even though there are challenges, I still feel like if you want something to change, you gotta start organizing, talking to people, etc.

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