‘Will of the people’

To the Journal editor:

I read with interest your editorial concerned with the lack of citizen participation in government in Sunday, Nov. 5’s issue of the Journal. Correctly you point out that the people hold the ultimate governing power within a proper democracy. Further, you point out an observed lack of citizen attendance at a recent Marquette Township Board budget work session and lament this as a lack of participation.

I have attended governmental open budget meetings at state, county and township levels with some regularity over my career in public health and note one commonality among these gatherings. The elected officials involved in the proceedings have at their fingertips some level of detailed paperwork, the policy briefs, and the staff analyses of the budget being proposed … while the attending public are often fortunate to have a copy of the agenda.

It is not surprising that there is little public interest in attending what amounts to be a set piece meeting. Unless they are on the agenda, the public is left to listen to the discussion (and often participation is restricted to the “public comment” time slot). Requests for copies of the materials to be discussed are often not readily available during the meeting, are posted somewhere or will require an FOIA request. This is the way our governments do the people’s business, with lip service to open meetings, public comment and a pale acknowledgement of the “will of the people.”

The 4th Estate clearly supports an informed and participating public presence. The Journal is to be congratulated for alerting us to this lack of public participation in government, but a keener observation of the simple barriers to creating any meaningful public participation might just provide a catalyst for a change in procedures.