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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Greater Local Involvement

For John, BLUFDon't focus on the Taliban, but on getting Lowell Residents involved.  Nothing to see here; just move along.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, the 31st of July, City Life will have have Host George Anthes and Co-Host Linda Bown.  In addition, there will be the guests, in this case Bloggers Jack Mitchell and Gerry Nutter.  I expect the issue of Neighborhood Groups and the Taliban will come up.  But to delve into that here would be getting ahead of the story.  Suffice it to say that Mr Anthes and Mr Mitchell are probably singing from the same score with regard to Neighborhood Groups.  They both realize that Neighborhood Groups are ad hoc solutions that do not provide full representation of the People in the Neighborhoods.

On Monday the show included Dr Victoria Falhberg.  During the show a representative of one of the Neighborhood Groups was on for a half hour or so, talking about a locally organized "Night Out" activity.  She was accompanied by Ms Ann Marie Page, who is the Chairman of the Citywide Neighborhood Council.  (Here is an example of a Facebook posting on the Lower Highlands Night Out.)  Professor Anthes was very polite to the two women and gave them full scope for their publicity and appeal for financial help, and Producer John McDonough even put the material up on the screen for folks to copy down.  But, at the end he went on about how Neighborhood Groups are not representative and are self selecting.  He then went off on the question of Proposed Zoning Changes along Route 38 here in Lowell (Rogers Street).

The thing is, Monday was an opportunity missed.  Many people believe our current form and structure of Government does not encourage sufficient participation and does not include all groups within the City.  With Dr Fahlberg sitting there Professor Anthes had the perfect opportunity to talk about the last effort to change our City Charter, since Dr Fahlberg was the Ramrod for such an effort, an effort that made it all the way to the City Council and to the Neighborhood Groups.  An opportunity that was, at best, missed, and maybe squandered.

At this point I would like to declare my view.  While it would have both an initial start-up cost and some ongoing costs, I think we should take advantage of what works today while still looking for more inclusion of various groups.  I would go (back) to a bicameral City Council, with one House being the current at large elected City Councilors and the other House being 11 Assemblymen elected by voting wards.  That would make eleven.  Thus we would have more elected officials and each person would have someone they saw as their local person, while still not losing the value of dedicated group of at-large City Councilors we have today.  I mean, is there anyone who would wish to see Rita Mercier pigeonholed as the Councilor from Ward 1?&nbbsp; Of course not.

Moving on to Tuesday's show, it was J-Mac and the Bear.  Most of us know that Mr John McDonald would like to see a Plan A form of government, as opposed to our current Plan E form of government.  Plan A would give us a "strong mayor" and downgrade the role of the City Manager.  Such a change would not help us.  It would not do anything to involve more voters in government and it would not shorten the distance between elected officials and the voters.  And, it would take us off what has been a very successful path, as we have veered away from a Detroit-like outcome.  In fact, a charter change from Plan E to Plan A seems like a solution looking for a problem.  The problem is, we don't have such problems here in Lowell.  Thus, one wonders if this proposed charter change is just a stalking horse for those who wish to see the current manager go away.

This brings us back to Wednesday morning.  Jack Mitchell has caused a bit of a stir with his use of the term "Taliban" to describe the local neighborhood groups.

To be frank, I think I would have gone more with a reference to the informal structures agains the formal structures, as Economist Hernando de Soto does in The Other Path.  Mr de Soto talks about informal housing groups and informal street peddlers and informal transportation providers and even talks about such informal people mounting "invasions" of formal areas.  The thing is, Mr de Soto and his organization, the Institute for Liberty and Democracy were a big factor in helping to defeat Peru's Shining Path movement.  But, who knows about Hernando de Soto?  Sure, I thought he was that conquistador from the early 1500s.  Then when three friends all mentioned his book, I picked it up.

But, as Jack Mitchell explains here, Taliban is not a bad way of drawing attention to a stark problem.  Like the Taliban, which advances into areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan where the central Governments are unable or unwilling to govern, so to do Neighborhood Groups fill voids in terms of communicating what needs to be done and even executing on some projects.

The issue of the term "Taliban" is also ventilated at Gerry Nutter's blog, here.  Mr Nutter puts it down to hyperbole.

And here is a comment from Left in Lowell, but not by Mr Jack Mitchell.

My view is that we need to focus on the issue, which is involving more Lowell Residents in the process of Government and ensuring that the views of all Lowell Residents get an airing.  How do we do that?  It isn't that Neighborhood Groups are bad, but what is it that should replace them as we do a better job of governing our fair city.

We need ideas and not "gotcha" rhetoric about word choices.

Regards  —  Cliff

1 comment:

Jack Mitchell said...

An excellent 'gateway activity' is commenting on blogs.

During campaigns for elected office, many new volunteers are nervous about knocking on doors or making phone call for the candidate. A 'gateway activity,' such as holding campaign signs at a busy intersection, introduces such folks to the notion of campaigning. But, more importantly, to the more seasoned volunteers that are the backbone of the ground game. Trust comes with rapport.