Citizens' actions democracy at work

Opinion Column

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

You can't always get what you want. But if you try sometime, you just might find You get what you need.

— The Rolling Stones

Already late for another meeting — that's one thing you learn when you deal with government in any capacity: there's always another meeting — I left last Friday's joint Dougherty Finance Committee/Library Board gathering intent on making up time.

Thus distracted, I almost missed the comments of a gentleman who politely asked if he could point something out to Commissioner John Hayes and other members of the Finance Committee.

The gentleman strode up to a map of the county hanging on a wall in the meeting room and said, "You're talking about two libraries located here and here (at this he pointed to the general locations of the closed Southside and Westtown library branches). When they were open, you had five library branches located within a 7-mile radius of each other.

"What about all this space out here where there are no libraries? What about these people in the county who have to drive several miles to get to a library?"

On the run, I didn't have time to stop and ask the gentleman his name or gauge commissioners' response. But as I've thought about his comments over the last several days it's dawned on me that this gentleman's actions are precisely what a democratic government is all about. With all the talk about patrons in two neighborhoods who, although surely inconvenienced by the closing of the two branches, still live within 2 to 3 miles of one of three other branches in the city, this man took it upon himself to represent the interests of citizens who have no such luxury.

And while I didn't get to stay behind and listen to the rest of the conversation, it is my hope that the commissioners present gave this man the time and the attention he, as, I would presume, a taxpaying citizen of the county, deserved.

In its perfect form — and trust me here, I'm well aware that our government at all levels is far from perfect; it is, after all, made up of human beings — a democratic government is a partnership between those governed and individuals elected to represent their best interests. Every person who made it through fifth-grade American history — or who watched "Schoolhouse Rock" — is aware of the checks and balances drawn into the U.S. Constitution to keep the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the government from growing too powerful.

There is a check in place on the local level as well, one that is sadly not used frequently enough. It's called the ballot box. If the person elected to represent your ward, district or interests fails to keep his part of the bargain, you have the option when the next election rolls around to openly opposed his or her re-election or even run for office yourself.

And while government at all levels is littered with politicians who've long since passed their effectiveness expiration date, we sadly keep sending these same people back to office, choosing familiarity and complacency over new ideas.

That's where everyday citizens' part of the partnership comes in. They're the ones who have the power to "kick the bums out of office." Sure, each individual has only one vote — except for those in certain parts of Illinois, New Jersey and Ohio — but if it means enough to any voter to strongly oppose a sitting politician, it should mean enough to work for his or her ouster.

Even still, if a person is so entrenched in office that you couldn't remove him with dynamite, you still have the right — and I'd say the responsibility — to do what this gentleman did at last week's county meeting. Unlike some who feel the way to make a valid point with government leaders is to talk loud, to threaten and to make demands, this gentleman (for the period I was there, at least) merely made a very valid point in a way that showed he'd thought about the matter and was not just trying to intimidate or embarrass the commissioners present.

I don't know how this gentleman feels about the decision made by the commission Monday to allocate funding to re-open one of the two closed library branches. But I do know he didn't just sit around and gripe or make anonymous complaints that were most likely to go unread and unheeded. He did something.

And I applaud him. These are the kinds of actions that have sustained this democracy for going on 250 years.

Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.