How a Functioning Democracy Works

Do you have expertise in a certain area?  Maybe you have experience in a field and have studied and prepared to use your knowledge in a gainful way. 

Elected officials can claim a certain expertise apart from and above many of their constituents.  They turned the levers of power to get themselves elected.  They know how to collaborate with other elected officials, staff, and the public. Their knowledge of ordinances and regulations is greater than those of us in the general public. If they’re good, they know how things work and how to get things done, i.e., how to govern.

We as citizens have areas of interest as well. We have responsibilities to obey laws, pay taxes, and to know enough to be an informed voter, at least.  Sometimes we need to let our elected officials know our opinions, when we have a point of view on an issue where our opinions matter.  

What good citizens do is, we know when to provide input to City Council, and when to let them make a decision based on the facts, the financial needs of the City, and on the wants and needs of the entire electorate.

What has happened is that our meetings and forums and workshops and town halls are driven by public opinion as defined by those who have the freedom to attend. There is a brief introductory description of a problem with little or no further dissemination of information.  The backstory of an issue, what brings it to the level of public attention, what recent developments or current conditions that exist is barely covered.  Then public comment begins.  

An informal study uncovers the fact that much of the letter-writing, public comments, and airtime is taken up by a few names.  Often, the opinions stated are repetitious and predictable.  New and needed information takes place during the business session, which is shortened by time constraints.

People who frequent City Council meetings must be brief and business-like in their comments. Public officials must realize that the vast majority of citizens expect that those officials are doing their due diligence on topics of vital public interest and that they are making decisions based on facts.  That’s how a functioning representative democracy works.

Carol Swain

Morro Bay

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