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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Will GM-less Janesville Usher In Government Reforms?

For the past two years, the Janesville city councils have been shifting gears in various attempts to pacify a growing vocal minority of residents who want change.

There have been rumors of nepotism along with suspicions of a city government run by a clique of bureaucrats and insiders. The city is experiencing a greater economic divide and despite the Internet, a general disconnect and a lack of cohesiveness among neighbors and neighborhoods persists among the battered silent majority. To usurp any dissent and squelch their voices, the city council created more citizen run committees and new rules while pushing for more transparency.

But things continue to evolve. The GM plant will not be turning on the lights any time soon. Tempers are starting to rise. More people are feeling left out. The at-large city council is beginning to exert as much power as they can within their bounds. Instead of representing the will of the people, they created a set of guidelines (goals) to help form a "will" among themselves. Put another way, there would be no need to surround the wagons if there is no threat. Janesville officials are operating in a leaderless vacuum.

This type of at-large council/manager form of government has roots coinciding with the inception of the GM plant during the 1920's. It made sense back then so the city would not be influenced by the huge labor pool, the factory paychecks or the political affiliations they cater to... the power players gambled and dropped district representation and the mayor.

In a city the size of Janesville, the mayor most likely would have been either the shop foreman or the union president or their brother. The alderman with the GM plant would have wielded the most clout. Now, GM is practically gone. The plant is still there, but the perceived threat from a single giant employer and all the power, money and clout they brought has disappeared. The local economy is sputtering and sparking unrest. Unemployment is at 13% and rising. The Janesville Gazette has expanded their grip on the struggling community and is publishing special interest articles and political activism now more than ever.

With a serious loss of economic stability, some people are beginning to feel more comfortable to do something different, especially now that a weighted demographic has dispersed. Economically, there is less to lose and more to gain. After 90 years under false choices in Janesville government, a window is finally beginning to open for reformers. But does anyone have the will to take advantage of it?

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