Mr. Quarterman, what can we do, do we have to go to the state legislature to get a law passed to force these so-called public officials to answer questions and respond to the citizens?First of all, my compliments to anyone such as Leigh Touchton who has been doing politics around here longer than me for asking my opinion, because that indicates they are pretty good at it and are probably asking many people their opinions.
We need many people building a community doing many things. If I knew a simple answer that would change things magically overnight, I’d recommend it, but I don’t. I don’t even know if I know a long answer, but I’m pretty sure that any answer will require a community, because the root of the problem we have now is that a small group thinks it can act for the community without paying much attention to anybody else in the community.
It’s like I’m going around with a flashlight without even knowing what I’m looking for.Obviously other people and organizations are also doing that. The VDT, for example, has done some excellent reporting. Eventually maybe this will get an overhead light turned on in some rooms. More open records requests: LAKE has a little list, for those who want to help file some. More people asking local governments to video their own meetings and post them on the web.
More people videoing them anyway and putting them on the web, like George Rhynes is doing. Most people haven’t even heard of the Quitman 10 because the local media don’t cover them. George is doing it anyway! You may think a school board election in Brooks County doesn’t matter to you. But I agree with MLK:
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere!
The problem is not just the old boys trying to decide for everyone else. It’s also many different activist organizations uncoordinated with each other. Sure, we need uncluttered threads of argument for specific issues. But we also need coordination, or we only have uncoordinated pressure groups, when we need a community.
We need even more organizations getting involved. More people standing up and asking questions. More people calling their local officials. I did, and got some answers from some VLCIA board members. You all can, too. Those answers led to more questions, which is as it should be: dialog. You can all help promote community dialog by asking your own questions!
More people making news: VDT, WCTV, WALB are traditional news media. For them to report on something, there has to be news to report. That means controversy (such as VLCIA won’t release its minutes) or an event (such as students playing asthma victims).
For those who want Col. Ricketts to know about what Ashley Paulk said, sending him the VDT writeup is great, but also send him the video Alex Rowell took. Col. Ricketts is always wanting people to come to the VLCIA office to talk to him: take him up on his offer and schedule a meeting for interested parties to view that video with him. Not just one person; take a group (this is worth doing for any meeting with a public official). Take pictures of the meeting, and maybe even video it. If he schedules it, he can’t any longer claim not to know, or if anybody tries that, you’ve got the visual evidence. If he refuses to schedule it, that’s news.
Leigh Touchton wrote:
I sent Chairman Paulk a very nice thank you letter because I was thunderstruck at what he told us.I stood up in the most recent County Commission meeting and complimented him and George Bennett for the same thing; there’s video, which will appear soon. If we want our elected and appointed officials to do the right thing, we need to commend them on doing it. That’s far more rare than most people think. Elected and appointed officials want their work to be appreciated. Sure, some parts of it need to be criticized, but other parts often are worth commending. That’s also part of community dialog. And it helps build a record for each public official, which could be relevant at the next election.
Speaking of sticks, we know Ashley Paulk doesn’t like sticks for example he said so when discussing T-SPLOST. It’s not just him: most people don’t like being told what to do.
Related to that is something Tim Carroll told me years ago: the most effective way to persuade decisionmakers in this community is to appeal to economics. Note why Ashley Paulk says the biomass plant won’t be built: there’s no business model because nobody will buy its product, its electricity. Yes, build the scientific case, the medical case, the moral case. But most of the officials and most of the electorate are going to be most influenced by the economic case. Anyone can deplore that if they wish. But do we want to be right, or do we also want to win?
For Leigh Touchton and the NAACP, a specific suggestion: Roy Copeland is very interested in Valdosta Small Emerging Business (VSEB), the program John Robinson has been promoting at Valdosta City Council meetings lately. Roy Copeland has asked me why NAACP doesn’t get more involved in promoting that program. Maybe there’s even a way to connect VSEB and USDA’s REAP. Hannah Solar is great, but there’s no reason even more local companies can’t do the same thing; Pete Marte knows this; I’ve had this discussion with him. Solar in south Georgia is a big enough opportunity that the pie will expand to have enough for many companies. Why not schedule a meeting with Roy Copeland and Leigh Touchton and Phyllis Stallworth and other interested parties to talk about these possibilities?
Sticks are sometimes needed, but carrots are needed even more. Most local officials see themselves as doing what’s best for the community. Their ideas of what that is may vary. But most of them actually do want to communicate with the community. Find something they’re working on and help them with it so that it will be better. Appeal to them where they are. Find mutual self-interest.
I volunteer my time to make this board better.Such people respond best to other people who are trying to make things better.
Some local elected and appointed officials are gradually becoming more communicative. Others will need to be replaced. Replacing them requires elections. Elections require building political capital for the things that need to be done.
The great thing about the protests against the biomass plant is that they include all sorts of people: young and old, black and white, college students and workers, and on and on. Activists working on other issues, such as education, risk falling victim to the old divide-and-conquer ploy of splitting opposition along lines of race or class or town vs. country. If that happens, the old regime wins and we (including the old boys) all lose. Even the old boys will profit more if they communicate with the community. Sometimes they need to be reminded of that. OK, not just sometimes; more like all the time.
Being against things isn’t enough. People don’t consistently vote against over time. People vote for solutions, and people, and visions. My vision is transparency in local government and communication among the community. What’s yours?
And yours? And you, over there! Pick one: Stand up in a local government meeting. Write a letter to the editor. Call your elected or appointed official. Write them a letter. Schedule a meeting. Tell us what happened. That last part is very important. Individuals alone will be defeated. A community together will, well, it will be a community!
This Tuesday, 17 May 2011, come to 2110 North Patterson Street and ask your Industrial Authority what you want to know. Don’t wait until then: call a VLCIA board member and ask them to put a vote on their agenda for what you want to decide. Follow up with a written letter (email or paper) because that will go into the public record, discoverable through open records requests, and they won’t be able to say nobody cared.
I want them to vote to publish their agendas and minutes on their own web site, and to do it before this month is out. What do you want them to do?