Fresh Ideas: Local government should be ditching trickle-down tactics
November 28, 2017
The 2016 election demonstrated voter suppression at every level, convincing me government of, by, and for the people is long gone. Caucus counts were clearly designed to ensure Hillary's win, the Lyon County primary presented voters a final ballot with just a single Republican candidate for each commissioner seat, and our president lost the popular vote by 3 million. Locally, the Lyon County Board of Commissioners has assumed a supervisory role over citizens and communities, and our Town Advisory Board answers to it, not the townspeople.
In the 1970s Silver City, where I live, had a vigorous town meeting, and I sat on the Town Advisory Board. Our chairman presided over the meeting, but town residents ran the show, following a New England town meeting format. All action came from the floor, with residents proposing motions and discussing the issue until someone "called the question," which demands a vote. The Advisory Board tallied the votes, presenting the information at the next commissioner's meeting.
Recently, a July 19, 1977 copy of the sadly defunct Gold Hill News came my way, and two items caught my attention: a letter to the editor and an article about the Silver City Town Meeting subtitled "Town Father Censured."
The letter is from Lyon County Commissioner Ed Maloney, seeking support to hire a county administrator. He says that commissioners are primarily responsible for protecting the "health, welfare, safety and the continuity of … community," and adds, "We have not done as well by you as we should." He lists 11 failings, including fees uncollected, building codes not enforced, grant applications not filed, paving of seldom-used rural roads, soaring county utility costs, and the like.
The attitude of service expressed by supporting "the continuity of … community" is painfully ironic. Silver City residents have adamantly opposed mining in town for the last 40 years, years in which I participated in at least three Master Plan sessions where such protection was ensured. Now the plan contains language specifying how mining and mining exploration can take place in Silver City.
The town meeting article was highly entertaining. A fracas outside a local bar drew complaints from residents to the Advisory Board secretary. The town meeting voted for a "wait and see" policy before requesting increased police patrols. But at the commissioners meeting, the Advisory Board secretary requested additional police patrols and the chairman said nothing. As well, the secretary had sent a letter to the Gold Hill News criticizing the bar scene in town, which he signed as the Advisory Board secretary.
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Various audience members spoke. One said, "The Town Board should only be allowed to act upon whatever the vote is," and asked for a motion to censure the secretary because "town board members should not put their titles on letters to the editor anywhere." The censure motion would ban letters signed with a title "for public consumption on views other than what was voted at a town meeting." The censure motion passed, but a request to rescind the extra patrols was defeated. A local bartender summed it up, saying he liked having evening patrols every two hours.
By 1988 a new set of bylaws gave the commissioners authority over all town business, and the town meeting changed. Today, residents may comment briefly during a public participation period. No vote, no motions. The town board does all that. It reports to the County Commissioners, who may change what they please: After our last town election, they changed our board members.
It's time for a return to the New England town meeting format, and democracy from the bottom up. Let's dump "trickle-down" consciousness.
Susan Stornetta is a retired archaeologist and a long-time Comstock resident.