Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Transparency of the Governmental Process

Most Americans have a weak understanding of how our "Self-Governance" (the envy of the Free World) is operating
Understandably distracted by the overwhelming availability of public information and responding to fulfilling the "learned" needs of everyday life, most citizens have been forced to delegate their civic responsibilities to a much lower priority. This has opened a void that paid government personnel have found that they must fill. Although unintended, this evolution of governance has led to an extreme imbalance in our governing process. The lack of citizen participation has opened fertile ground for manipulation by a wide ranging variety of special interest groups ranging from Non-Governmental Organizations to Corporate Lobbyists.
The present condition of our "treasured" form of self-governance is in great jeopardy and not easy to mend. Recent Polls indicate that the current sentiment of the populace overwhelmingly favors replacing all members of our Federal Congress with new "true" representatives of the people. Yet, we are experiencing governmental dysfunction on local levels as well; most likely due to an accumulation of local citizen apathy.
The fundamental premises of our governance in the Commonwealth of Virginia is very sound. However, as a "Dillon Rule" state, we must, as citizens, keep tabs on the actions of our state representatives as well as our local elected and appointed representatives.
Recently, Roanoke County established a Stormwater Advisory Committee. Of the twenty-one members appointed to the Committee, only five were directly appointed by the Board of Supervisors. The remaining sixteen were identified by the Roanoke County Administrative Staff. The significance in this example of the exercise of governmental power lies in the fact that ultimately, the determination of additional revenues for the County to "administer" future stormwater management programs will lie with the recommendation of special interest groups.
Certainly the decisions made in Roanoke County have an impact on our neighboring localities, but this does not mean that we should grant our neighbors the opportunity to make our decisions for us. Unfortunately, this is exactly what has happened in recent years regarding a variety of issues. It has happened primarily as a result of the lack of an effective governmental process that prioritizes the views of its constituency above all others.
Certainly we should welcome the input from all with outside interests, but we should be sure to strongly represent the viewpoints of those persons who actually financially support the governance of our community.
Due to a similar dysfunctional government on the national level, we are now quickly approaching a financial catastrophe of epic proportions. This should be understood as an alarm call to all citizens on a local level to respond by correcting the dysfunctions in local government.
Recently, Windsor Hills magisterial district Supervisor Ed Elswick has been attempting to persuade his fellow Board Members to adopt a resolution that would lead to a re-examination of our current procedures as related to land use planning. He titled his proposal a Property Rights Resolution. Within it procedural changes are proposed that are quite different from those that other Board members and Administrative staff have accepted as "normal" through decades of use. Business leaders as well as planning professionals have also become comfortable with the current processes. So, once again, a plea for a return to civility is lost on deaf ears.
Yet, repeatedly, in legal disputes all over our nation we find evidence that those property owners most affected by zoning changes and variances, have the weakest position with their local government. In a recent Forbes magazine article about the recent Supreme Court decision  Koontz v. St. John’s Water Management District:
Many things are broken with respect to rights in real property... ineffective or outdated land use and zoning plans, the propensity for elected officials to make ill-conceived changes to those plans, and the fact that so many interests and agencies can come forward to involve themselves in the permitting process, make the process unnecessarily hazardous and cumbersome. Applicants denied entitlements are forced to fight as individuals against agencies with unlimited resources. Those with the ability to work the system often receive approvals inappropriately.
                                                                                                                                       -Robert Bridges
On Tuesday, November 5, citizens in the Windsor Hills Magisterial District will have the opportunity to re-elect Ed Elswick, the most conscientious Supervisor we have had since Lee Eddy.