Democracy in action v. unelected officials –Matthew Richard

This LTE appeared in the VDT 18 Jan 2011. -jsq
The recent biomass meeting was a great example of democracy in action. Concerned citizens gave up an evening to educate themselves and it was heartening to see many in the audience participate. I’m no political scientist, but this must be what the founders of the constitution had in mind in conceiving that document.

The evening was not without controversy. Several speakers spoke passionately, even vehemently, prompting someone to question the tone of some on the anti-biomass side. One wonders how closely he follows events in the area?

Valdostans are frustrated at the blatantly anti-democratic tactics employed by local government that result in our getting things rammed down our throats. Biomass is just the latest example.

The project is ill-conceived economically and ecologically. Our officials denounced the Obama economic stimulus package as wasteful, yet here they are with their hands out asking for millions of taxpayer dollars to build a “landfill in the sky.”

Let’s review. The biomass project was selected by the Industrial Authority as a worthy initiative, even though it will create only 19-22 jobs. This five-member body is APPOINTED, not elected. Who appoints them? The same local officials who now wash their hands of responsibility for the project, saying they have no authority to intervene; the matter is out of their hands; there’s nothing they can do. Our newspaper is complicit in this, announcing on its editorial page just today that the project is inevitable. I’ve lived here 15 years and have witnessed this institutional collusion and stiff-arming of the public over and over. Local government takes advantage of low turnout at meetings to pass questionable initiatives. If that doesn’t work, they resort to bullying.

So the industrial board, accountable to nobody but those who appointed them, is insulated from public criticism. Where shall citizens turn? The town square is not an option; everyone shops at the Mall, where free speech is not guaranteed because the Mall is private property. Many of us go faithfully to the City Council and County Commissioners’ meetings and wait patiently—sometimes hours—until the citizens’ portion of the meeting. Imagine our shock when we heard that Dr. Noll was prohibited from speaking Tuesday night, for all intents and purposes, told to shut up. Then, the inevitable sentiment was heard: “You’re not from around here, are you?” I’ve heard this remark many times and have learned that it means “You don’t know how we do things around here, do you?”

My point: In Lowndes County, serious decisions are being taken by UNELECTED people. It would be good to know the credentials of the “quasi-governmental” Industrial Authority determining local air and water quality. Might the VDT investigate? These UNELECTED officials are insulated from public critique and are taking full advantage. The public, meanwhile, tries to use the democratic process to keep the debate alive, but is silenced by our ELECTED officials who clearly have forgotten they work for us.

Oh, but I’ve erred once again: I must not be from around here.

Despite the advice of the VDT, those of us from elsewhere, together with our longtime friends in town will continue to fight this unhealthy and wasteful monstrosity.

Matthew Richard, Naylor