as published in the Blytheville Courier News on Wednesday, July 22, 2015
By TOM HENRY
Are you mad because of high crime? Are you angry at the prospect of higher taxes? Do you feel that government has too many assistants and are not doing their job? Do you think your government is wasting taxpayer money on projects that only benefit the few? Do you think the area is going to the dogs?
Now, I realize that I have a unique vantage point from which to view how our government officials operate and how their decisions are made. It is precisely for that reason that I offer my perspective on how to effectively bring change for those that desire it. We certainly need more leaders. We already have more than enough loud mouth, trash talking, armchair quarterbacks running down our city, county, state, school board, ad infinitum.
Attendees of meetings such as Tuesday’s Blytheville City Council may find themselves frustrated by an abundance of procedure and at times a drought of real substantive debate about the issues that concern everyday citizens. I understand those frustrations, but there is an explanation. Some actions that appear to be rushed and mechanical (such as first, second and third readings of ordinances) are required for open government. They can look particularly silly and ineffective when they are all three done at the same meeting and especially if the “rules are suspended” and the ordinances are read by title only. But, sometimes (not always) it can’t be helped.
There were a number of ordinances at Tuesday’s meeting that went through all three readings, with rules suspended to be read by title only. There were five of them in fact. Our officials are required to follow these procedures under Arkansas Code § 14-14-905. However, to the passive spectator, it can appear to be nothing but smoke and mirrors designed to deliberately keep the public in the dark. Nevertheless, it is state law. On issues that require immediate attention, the only way to operate within the law and make the wheels of government move fast enough to take care of necessary immediate business is to work the system in this way.
Okay, so that explains the fancy, boring procedural moves, but it doesn’t explain why our government officials don’t typically discuss much regarding the issues involved. Also, how can they be unanimous on so many things. Are they all puppets? No, not necessarily, but maybe. The real reason they don’t debate and discuss much in that type of meeting is because, for the most part, real discussion and policy decisions are truthfully made elsewhere. By the time the council, quorum court, or even state legislature assembles to vote, decisions have almost always already been made. There are really only two places where the real work of discussing issues and policy making occur: in committee meetings and face to face with your public officials.
Nearly all issues are first discussed in one or more committee meeting. If you want to make a change and find out what is really going on in your government, you simply must attend the committee meetings. It is there that you get to hear from outside experts. It is there that you can see your elected official’s face, hear their words and decide what is real and what is for show. You can certainly get a better feel for where your public officials stand by attending these intimate, less formal meetings.
Another place where you have maximum impact upon what your elected officials do is at open public forums such as the Ward Meeting to be held this Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Blytheville Public Library. All council members are scheduled to attend this meeting and all citizens who wish to speak are afforded an opportunity to do so. One must simply be direct, respectful and stay on topic to be afforded this opportunity.
Another way to make a change and have your voice heard is by contacting them directly. Look them in the eye and talk to them face to face. Do this when you see them on the street. Call them and express your opinion on issues that are important to you. Set up an appointment to visit with them.
Certainly, don’t be passive and just accept whatever your elected officials do without giving them your input. Most of them, if not all of them, honestly want to know what you are thinking. Many of them want to do the very best they can, but perhaps need your perspective in order to even perceive your side of an issue.
If you are angry at the way things are done and you want to see a change, certainly DO NOT be a lazy coward and simply go onto an online forum and anonymously blast vile, unsubstantiated, slanderous rumor! Don’t go on social media sites and trash talk our leaders. It does no good. Look them in the eyes, be respectful and hold them accountable. No politician is afraid of anonymous cowards that are barely literate enough to find a keyboard. They are all, however, very concerned about a mature, articulate, involved, educated citizen that has had enough!
If all of these suggestions fail to effect the change you are seeking – run for office yourself! You might be exactly what we are needing. Just remember, the view is much different in the arena than it is from the cheap seats!