November 26, 2013 —
Good local governance requires an implicit partnership between elected officials and citizens with each party doing its part to make and implement good decisions for their community. The term social contract comes to mind—an agreement between the governed and the government defining and limiting the rights and duties of each.
When parties on either side of the equation fall short of meeting responsibilities and expectations, the functioning of a civil society (or in this case, the functioning of a civil community) is put at risk. You can see exactly what a broken civic relationship looks like if you view video excerpts of the meeting of the Village of Bloomingburg, NY Planning Board meeting on September 26. (www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Bloomingburg+NY+%2B+planning+board+...)
The anger of the overflow crowd of citizens is plainly evident, shouting down the village planning board. The reasons for the citizens’ wrath are many but focus on construction of an approved 396-unit, high-density townhouse development and adjacent 16-room private girls’ school in this rural village of about 400 residents. Unable to conduct normal business over the raucous gathering, the planning board cut the contentious meeting short and adjourned. Since then municipal officials have not been convening municipal meetings in Bloomingburg. This controversy has been brewing of several years, and this is not the first contentious public meeting on this subject.
We at The River Reporter believe that the crisis in Bloomingburg offers a cautionary tale for other communities, and that it is therefore worthwhile to look at what the rights and duties of governments and citizens are.
In the compact between government and the governed, municipal officials are expected to conduct public business openly and transparently; to consider the impact of policies, programs and projects on their community and its citizens; to hear community input before decisions are made and, once made, officials are to be accountable for their decisions, and, of course, to obey the law.
Finally; one of the responsibilities of elected municipal officials is to hold regularly scheduled government meetings. If this requires finding a venue large enough to accommodate large numbers of people, then it behooves officials to do so. Citizens have a right to be heard, no matter how unpleasant the listeners may find the message.