In a perfect world, citizens would have to jostle for a seat.
Instead, almost every one of the county’s 80,000 or so registered voters will count on me or someone else to tell us how the local governments plan to spend their tax money, as explained during budget hearings Tuesday.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s nice to be trusted to tell people about how their business is being handled. That’s basically any local media outlet’s long-standing social compact with its readers: We’ll go to all those government meetings so you don’t have to.
That’s actually built in to our system of government. Neither you nor I vote directly on county actions, budgets included. That’s why we elect county commissioners and school board members. Each of those four district-elected officials votes during those meetings as a representative of about a quarter of the county’s population, while the school board chairwoman and county commission chairman each vote (at least in theory) in what they generally believe to be the best interest of all residents.
Obviously, it would be entirely too cumbersome to govern by direct democracy, putting to a vote each and every action the government needs to operate. Besides: Does anyone really think a useful number of citizens would take time to be informed about, much less vote on, say, “Resolution 13-1050: Establishing the fee for the sale of address markers by Columbia County fire services,” or “Resolution 13-047: Establishment of a street light district, Blackstone subdivision”? (Those are actual recent items voted on by commissioners.)
So, we trust elected officials to vote on our behalf, and we generally trust the local media to give citizens at least an overview of their actions.
But Tuesday, the school board and the county commission each will meet to talk about next year’s budgets. The school board meets at 8 a.m., and the county commission meets at 5:30 p.m. They hold those sessions each year to present their proposed budgets for public review.
Rarely, however, does any “public” show up to review them. They learn what happens, if they’re inclined, because we show up and report the highlights. (“We,” as in the media, though typically with the Columbia County Commission and School Board that means, literally, just me. Rarely do other media attend our government meetings unless there’s some controversy. That’s the price we pay for not having a Marion Williams, I suppose.)
I am honored to attend on your behalf. But it would be nice if a few fellow taxpayers could take the time to see a few more of the details of their government in action for themselves.
If I don’t see you Tuesday, though, I’ll be sure to tell you about it later.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email barry.paschal@newstimes online.com, or call 706-868-1222, ext. 106. Follow at www.twitter.com/