Good citizen day three: The view from your own porch

I’ll admit it. I rolled my eyes when I read today’s task: Learn about your local representatives and issues.”

In theory, I absolutely believe that the best way we can make a difference in the world is to get involved locally. If everyone made sure their neighbor – just one neighbor – was doing alright, then everyone would be okay. Everyone. Wouldn’t that be remarkable? The problem, and this is my problem, is that I bring a number of preconceptions to local politics. The first is that it’s just a bunch of busybodies trying to be the Most Important Person In Town. The second is that local politics revolve around bickering over who gets their street’s potholes fixed first. The third – and here is where I am the MOST lame – is that they are all Republicans. Even when there’s an election, it will be among Republicans. Why would I even bother?

Nice attitude. I know.

Anyway, I was right on at least that last bit, not that it’s a good excuse of any kind. My parents live in District 4, and our commissioner is Patrick Bell. He’s being challenged this year by two people … both Republicans. But in local issues, I’m learning, the distinction of Republican versus Democrat is totally different. Or a little different. And anyway, saying I’m not informed because I’m outnumbered is self-defeating and inexcusable. So here we go …

HERE’S something interesting: on Super Tuesday, there will be a referendum to approve Sunday alcohol sales. That’s an interesting move toward the universe outside the Bible belt. There’s another issue – a change to the ethics code – up for approval; it says that the county can’t enter into a contract with a company “in which a public official or employee is a principal.” That one hits on one of the FREQUENT complaints I grew up hearing about commissioners in this town. Everyone (except the kids of the actual commissioners) always says that the commissioners here act largely in their own financial self-interest. I always ask, Why not elect someone else? I’m always answered, How would that make a difference?

Here’s the issue I found the most compelling. It’s a great illustration of where this county is. After centuries of agrarian culture, Forsyth County has transformed in the last couple of decades into a sprawling suburb, dotted with quaint old farmhouses that are rarely attached any longer to a working farm. Last fall, the County served a backyard beekeeper with a notice that his “livestock” were in violation of his property’s zoning. Last week, the County commission voted 5-0 to hold two public hearings on changing the code so that bees will no longer be considered livestock, making beekeepers all over the county happy and, surely, horrifying hundreds of fancy house owners. I love this for two reasons. One, beekeepers are performing a valuable service that the world needs. Honey bees are increasingly threatened. We need caring people to foster the populations we have left, populations that do us the tiny favor of pollinating EVERYTHING WE EAT. That’s an oversimplication, but you know what I mean. But also, people need to get back in touch with the natural world. We can’t live in perfectly sanitized glass and steel. And anyway, what kind of life is that? Get out there. Raise some bees. Grow some wheat. Make the Department of Commerce crazy.

Just one thing … I’m not sure why this bee thing requires a vote on whether to have TWO meetings about whether to have a vote. Local, state and federal, a pitiful lack of efficiency seems to be the biggest problem we face.


4 thoughts on “Good citizen day three: The view from your own porch

  1. Being a good citizen is harder than it sounds. I looked it up. Or in this case, I followed the directive of the 30 day challenge, day 3, and went to find out who my commissioner is. I voted for him, because I try to be a good citizen. Then, duty done, I went back to trying to be a good wife, mother, grandmother, teacher, artist person, etc. and left the job of running the county to my elected official. I picked him. I figured he could do the job, right?

    Well today, I went to find out who he was, because Juli said we were in district 4 and our guy was Patrick somebody. I didn’t remember a Patrick, but who knows maybe my guy didn’t win after all. Had I left the county to some unknown? So I looked on the district map. This is where it got interesting. Wallace Tatum Road, right down to Wright’s Bridge Road, is in district 4, Patrick somebody’s district. BUT from there on there is a big black borderline between district one (pale purple on the map) and district 4(light aqua), and our driveway marked private is in borderline limbo. Whatever!

    Not to worry, there was another way to figure it out. A search by exact address revealed that indeed we are not in the district 4 province of Patrick whoever but in the district 1 domain of Pete Amos, husband of Catherine Amos, parents of the year for Otwell Middle School in 1995 and people I know, somewhat. And with that I remembered that I voted for someone I knew and felt safe leaving the county to, so I hadn’t exactly failed at my duty of citizenship……or had I?

    So I looked at the agenda for the next meeting to see what they were going to be working on to make my county better. Under old business there was a writ of certiorari for John Gooch, Fire Department-Hearing Officer. So I googled writ of certiorari and found out it is “the name given to certain appellate proceedings for re-examination of actions of a trial court, or inferior appeals court.”

    Who is John Gooch? What is a Hearing Officer? Maybe, I thought, reading past proceeding would clarify. So back I went to the minutes of the previous meeting. Here I found out that when the motion to accept the minutes of a prior meeting was moved by now familiar Patrick (Bell, it turns out), it was seconded by RALPH Amos, so Pete, the person I sort of know because I know his wife, has a real name and it is not Pete.

    Anyway, back to my quest for who is John Gooch and what’s up with him. Unfortunately, there was no mention of John or his appellate proceedings, only an “Adoption of supplemental parity bond resolution related to the Forsyth County Water and Sewerage Authority 2011 Revenue Bonds.”

    What’s a supplemental parity bond……okay, see what I told you! Being a good citizen is harder than it sounds.

    Do they teach this now in school? I hope so.

  2. A parity bond is a legal instrument by which the county (in this case) pledges a certain part of its tax collection will be devoted to repaying a loan granted a certain purpose (in this case a water and sewage plant), as security for that loan. Because the bond can be legally enforced by a state court, the county is unable to decide later to use that part of its tax revenue for other purposes. Thus, a lender considers it good security and will lend at reasonable rates.

  3. Yes, I googled that, too. The point is, the average citizen should not need a law degree to be able to understand what is going on in her/his county. Even with the definition, it was unclear exactly what tax collection they were referring to or what loan. At some point, isn’t the reason we elect officials to do this business because we can’t go to every meeting they do and vote on every thing they do and still do the jobs that we do. I am teaching their kids. They are trusting me to do this well. I am trusting them to do their jobs well. I would just like a clear explanation of what they are doing, just like they want a clear explanation of how well their kids are doing in my classes.

  4. That’s a noble sentiment, but it’s also a big ask. Explaining complex things simply is one of the hardest things in the world; and you’ve probably elected people who do have law degrees. This is the language they think in.

    There aren’t a lot of philosophers who are very good at explaining themselves simply, either. Big, complex ideas are more easily expressed symbolically to those with the advanced training necessary to understand the symbols; to say it in terms everyone can understand is very much harder. Better, I agree, but very much harder. Your average politician — especially the low-level politician who isn’t able to win a higher office than the county commission — may not be up to it.

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