Our United States governments, from local to national, are representative republics. That means voters elect individuals to make decisions on their behalf.
But sometimes citizens also have an opportunity for direct democracy, in which each voter renders his or her decision on an issue, with a majority of those votes declaring approval or rejection.
That opportunity will come in Columbia County on Nov. 7, when voters will be asked whether to approve a 1 mill increase in property taxes to repay $43 million the county would borrow to fund a long list of infrastructure projects.
The sausage-making process leading up to this point wasn't very pretty, as the citizens' representatives on the county commission and on local city governments quarreled endlessly - and often needlessly - about minute details of the projects to be included in the list.
Interestingly, citizens handled their end of the process much better. They attended a series of county meetings designed to find out the projects the public most wanted, and from that feedback the county's staff put together a substantial list of improvements.
The constructive dialogue was a stark contrast to arguments between county commissioners and city officials, between county commissioners and constitutional officers, and between county commissioners and county commissioners. Heck, commissioners even disagreed with themselves: Lee Anderson routinely pronounced himself for and against the proposal. By the time commissioners finally voted to send the bond referendum to voters, they'd come close to scrapping the whole thing.
It's as if the public kept its cool, and the people they elected to represent them couldn't. Thus, it is probably best that the final decision on whether to fund the list of capital improvement projects will come directly from citizens who will benefit from them, and from taxpayers whose money will pay for them.
With such a rare opportunity for direct democracy, we can only hope that voters will take the opportunity to study the projects in the package and then go to the polls to vote their conscience.
This past week, just 2,777 of the county's nearly 60,000 registered voters bothered to cast ballots in the primary runoff; hopefully, there will be a much better representation than that scant 4.64 percent turnout to make a decision on the community's behalf in November.
Surely they'll do a better, and less argumentative, job of it than their elected representatives.
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