Lack of citizen participation in government seen

There is a quote — over which some confusion exists as to its origin and exact wording — that we believe appropriately applies to a very relevant example right here at home.

At first glance, it’s somewhat unclear exactly who made this comment. Some say it was the 18th century French political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville, or even former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. But another consensus believes it is more accurately attributed to an early 1800s writing by French philosopher Joseph de Maistre.

The comment, more or less, goes something like this: “Every nation gets the government it deserves.”

An intriguing thought, no doubt, and one that we feel relates not only to the nation or country, but to the local level of a democratic government, as well.

In a proper democracy, the ultimate power rests with the people. The masses have the ability to elect those we choose to create laws and govern our country, and we all have the opportunity — some would argue duty — to participate in that governing process.

We’ve all got some skin in the game, and are literally invested in our respective governments financially through taxation. This brings us to an observation we made relative to a story and photo that was published last week on The Mining Journal’s front page about a Marquette Township Board work session.

The board held the session to discuss the township’s 2018 budget, as many local municipalities do. These proceedings are not a “sexy” topic, or a thrilling event by any stretch of the imagination. But they do ultimately result in a tremendous impact on residents.

Budgets set the tone for the entire year, and oftentimes dictate what types of services are and aren’t provided to a municipality’s taxpayers.

Though budget stories provide readers with important information, they admittedly aren’t always the fun, engaging read many of us enjoy when we settle in to look through the newspaper. However, what strikes us as an even more important point, is the photo that accompanied the story on the township’s poorly attended budget session.

We decided to run the picture as we did to show the rows of empty chairs, or what we believe are missed opportunities by residents and taxpayers to participate in the governing process.

While these are public meetings held by publicly elected officials for the purpose of determining how to spend public tax dollars, the public neglected to show up.

Perhaps the poor attendance was due to the meeting being a work session, where no official decisions are to be made on the record.

But there is no doubt that discussions shape decisions, and those decisions have a very real effect on taxpayers.

Don’t be fooled; this lack of public participation is not limited to Marquette Township’s borders. We see it at other townships and cities, and at the county level of government, as well.

Time and time again, year after year, The Mining Journal’s reporters attend these budget sessions and meetings to bring our readers important information that directly impacts their lives. But few seats are occupied by other members of the community.

Unfortunately, we hear of little griping from John Q. Public until after the decisions are made. When the wolf is at the door, so to speak, and utility rates are jacked up or services are cut, that’s when we hear the grumbling.

We again urge readers to participate in the governing process, and that applies equally to voting in Tuesday’s election, as well. Until you become a part of this public procedure, you forfeit the right to complain.

Eventually, we’ll all get the government we deserve. Whether that’s representative of what you want, depends on whether you get involved.

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