Our View: ‘The government is us’
One of the underlying tenants of democracy is participation by the people.
But if attendance at government meetings in Craig and Moffat County is any indication, that tenant is slowly being eroded.
For starters, attendance at the Moffat County Board of Commissioners meetings is dismal. To promote participation by residents and accommodate work schedules, commissioners, who regularly meet in the mornings, have four meetings a year in the evenings. But it hasn’t helped.
When commissioners recently invited the public to participate in the budget process, few showed up to provide their ideas about how their government should spend tax dollars.
That’s disturbing, considering voters rejected 1A, a referendum on the Nov. 1 ballot that would have exempted the county from revenue limits. The law limits county revenues to 5.5 percent growth from one year to the next. If county revenues grow by 10 percent, for example, the county has to refund 4.5 percent.
Some residents vehemently opposed what they considered a tax hike. Those residents were loud and clear about their position. So why the silence now, when it’s time to make the hard decisions about what services the county should cut?
Attendance at Craig City Council meetings is equally discouraging.
We understand busy schedules. But we fear there’s more to it.
In a 1997 column, Mark Funkhouser, then audit director of Kansas City, Mo. and editor of the Local Government Auditing Quarterly, offered some ideas about why participation in local government had reached such a dreary lull.
“Lost in the rising tide of anti-government feeling and the erosion of trust in government that has been the most salient feature of the American political landscape for the last quarter century is a fundamental fact: the government is not a separate entity apart from us. As Teddy Roosevelt said, ‘We are the government, the government is us, you and I.'”
Craig Daily Press reporters have witnessed the power of one resident at a public meeting to change an ordinance or move elected officials to reconsider their position.
If cynicism or distrust of local government is to blame for poor participation by residents, there’s reason for hope and optimism in Moffat County.
Commissioners and elected officials have repeatedly invited feedback from the public, whether through letters, phone calls or attendance at meetings.
We encourage residents to accept the invitation by elected officials and participate.
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Nearly all of Craig Parks and Recreation Director Ryan Dennison’s tenure with the department has been under the shadow of the pandemic.