Wednesday, July 02, 2008

How Does One Participate in Local Governance?

I've been struggling with this idea since I moved into a house. I don't condone government control of many aspects of life, even local government. This leads to conflict, for me, about dealing with local officials and budgets. Our town votes on a town budget and a school budget every year. I know that government-run schools are wrong. Every year I either vote against them or refrain from voting.

I'm dissatisfied with that! I feel like I'm living in denial. There are government-run schools. They will have tax-payer money to run them. I would like to be a constructive force for change in the government school system--not some curmudgeon who will always vote 'no' and thus ignored. (This is a huge issue in our town because almost a third of the residents are seniors who are sick of paying for other people's kids on their fixed incomes.)

I once thought that perhaps I could recognize the whole exercise as improper, but vote for or against the budget based on whether I thought the expenditure itself--apart from where it was coming from and why--seemed appropriate. But then I convinced myself that this was also an evasion.

I'm also curious about how one would deal with local government officials. Suppose I want to appeal my property assessment. Would I first make an opening statement about the entire process being immoral? That would be ridiculous. They don't care. I'm not sure it would be completely OK to not say anything at all. My most pressing concern is with the school board.

I'm not planning it, but what about running for office? Could an Objectivist run for local offices and knowingly have to deal with zoning, open-space planning, recreation departments, insanely stringent environmental regulations? Of course one would do whatever one could to minimize or eliminate such overkill.

I've worked myself into a damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don't situation and I can't come up with the proper reasoning to find a solution.

1 comment:

LB said...

Yes, I know the feeling. I once served on the local Conservation Commission of my town (the board that administers the horrendous environmental regulations dealing with the protection of wetlands). I was well qualified both academically and professionally – I just hated it philosophically! There was one old-timer townie on the board and 5 other yuppies. The old-timer and I always voted together and did our damnedest to get the others to vote with us – we hated the ridiculousness of the regulations. It was rather humorous except for the fact that we were bandying about with people’s time, money, and properties. Serving on a board can also be a huge time commitment.

I never had the opportunity to discuss the morality of the regulations at the local level, but did send one letter to the state regarding the same. I think you are right in that bringing up the morality of the regulations as the forefront of your argument in dealing with town officials is like bringing in a Mercedes Benz designer to judge the boxcar derby. Most people (particularly small town officials who have had a taste of regulatory power) don’t take kindly to outsiders questioning the very foundation of their fiefdoms. I make that generalization having been one of them.

So what can you do? Go to town meeting. Do your homework before hand and speak up against what you see as a problem and why. Keep plugging away at exploring, expressing, and exposing good and bad ideas. Keep learning and judging. Do it now before you do become that old curmudgeon we've all seen at our town meetings!