Write to the Point
We’re nearing the midpoint of October in an election year. With the myriad issues that face our nation and our state, voters are engaged and turnout is expected to be high.
Hopefully, most citizens recognize the importance of voting, of participating in this funny little democracy we call America. Nearly everybody knows who they’re voting for in the presidential election, and hopefully folks here in Eastern Washington know who they’ll send to the other Washington and to Olympia to represent them.
Voting is important, and I’ll be happy to see a high voter turnout in the big election next month. But is that all we can expect from our neighbors, to fill in the circles and drop their ballot in the box? I hope it’s not, but time and time again I’m disappointed by the lack of engagement I see from the local community.
People complain that the federal and state governments are not engaged with their constituents, that they don’t understand local issues. But when local residents have the opportunity to engage with each other and with the local government on issues that matter to them, often nobody shows up.
Take, for example, Monday night’s Planning Commission meeting. The commission was taking up a first draft of a new commercial zone for the city in part of a long and sorely needed process to update its development code. Having heard countless developers and small business owners complain for years about precisely this issue, I thought some of the more fired-up among that group would show up to hear what they city came up with in terms of improvements. Would the proposed changes work in practice, or would they create different headaches for the men and women designing new buildings and upgrading old ones?
That remains to be seen. The only people in the room Monday night were elected officials, city staff and me. Plus the child of one of the commissioners. I guess he would count as a citizen. He did a great job of sitting quietly with his slushy throughout the hour-plus meeting, but he didn’t have any insights to add on setbacks or building heights.
So now, I know more than 99.9 percent of the Cheney population about some big commercial zoning changes coming down the pike. And I certainly tried to boil down the basics in the news article, but as we all know, the devil is in the details. I might see a potential problem in requiring new buildings to “contribute toward the visual character of existing buildings,” but I’m simply not the expert. There are people in this community who have dealt with these issues. Where were they Monday night?
Business people are busy. I get that. But wouldn’t they save themselves a lot of time and money by adding their views at the beginning of the process to change the code, rather than pointing out problems in the future code as they come up?
The saying goes, “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.” I think that principle applies to more than just voting. Citizens need to participate when there’s an opportunity to make things better for the community, whether the issue is safety, education, aesthetics or the local economy. I think if there was a way to enforce that saying when it comes to local participation, we’d have either more attendance and discourse at city meetings or there’d be a whole lot of quiet people around.