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Has government out-paced our desire, or our ability to understand?

West Life’s writers work very hard, week in and week out, to bring our readers an understandable accounting of what happens each week in the Westshore. We deal in police contracts, school board elections, state budgets and environmental studies (and yes we offer features fracking, car shows and artists among many others).

You live in the Westshore and have the right to information that will lead to better decisions and open government.

So when I ask the question in the headline, I want the answer to be, “Neither.” Forced to pick one or the other – desire or ability – I would reluctantly choose to hope that all we have lost is our desire to understand.

I started a conversation at theciviccommons.com on this topic as it related to a paramedic levy covered by our newspaper in Avon Lake, The Press. The 2.0-mill levy failed by a six-vote margin, at least part of the reason for which, I am convinced, is that despite more than a dozen stories explaining how the service is staffed and funded, it is very hard to accept some of the budgeting requirements at play here.

Now this could as easily have been a school levy/bond issue, with which more people may be familiar by name. The underlying point of my question was to find out if people understand their local government and how it operates. If not, is it for lack of trying? and, if so, is that for lack of caring?

I hope it’s a more a matter of desire than ability. In the absence of desire, we have a disinterested electorate. In the outright absence of ability we will have the eventual failure of a nation.

I don’t know if I’ve ever written a sentence with such utter gloom.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have this week taken on a fellowship with theciviccommons.com related to engagement. But I have been a community participant on the site for roughly two years. Having posted the question, I received responses from two people. One, Jill Miller Zimon, is a councilwoman in Pepper Pike.

“Sigh – this is a HUGE topic and one I wish wish wish more taxpayers would dig into,” Zimon wrote. “Municipal accounting has a lot to do with the fungible perceptions but also a failure on both the part of the residents to ask and the electeds to make information available and understandable can be a big source of the problem too. Then, there is the divide in how you might budget at home versus for a business – they may not resemble anything like a political subdivision.”

OK, I had to look up “fungible” which, according to dictionary.com, means “(especially of goods) being of such nature or kind as to be freely exchangeable or replaceable, in whole or in part, for another of like nature or kind.”

We, as a newspaper, as for information from government on your behalf. Have you? We have regular letter writers I know ahead of time would answer yes. What about you who have not written before?

Interestingly, Zimon also added, “And I’ll tell a not so secret secret – when I was deciding to run for Pepper Pike City Council, I asked a wonderful friend who has been in politics for a long time (and not even on the same “political” side as me) how I should go about it. The answer? First thing I should do, I was told, was to get a copy of the City’s budget and learn it. Best advice I was given.”

I put the question to you, the voters in Bay Village, Rocky River, Fairview Park, Westlake and North Olmsted: Has government out-paced your desire, or your ability to understand?

The future outside of those two options is mired in the inflammatory language of super pacs. Let’s make sure to claim local understanding right now.

 

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