One thing we learned this past year is that Wallowa County residents on average do a poor job of playing the role of government watchdogs.
Nowhere was this more clear than when Wallowa County abruptly announced this past spring it would eliminate the county library. Actually, several meetings at which the plan was discussed were held prior to the announcement, but no one attended or paid any attention.
There have been other surprise moments for residents at the municipal level as the year progressed.
Poke your head into almost any county, city or school board meeting, and you will discover an appalling lack of curiosity about what tax-supported entities are up to. Yet they spend millions of our hard-earned dollars each year.
For the new year, it’s time for all of us –– including the Chieftain –– to resolve to do a better job at being at the forefront of holding the feet of elected officials to the fire.
That does not mean being obnoxious or confrontational. It does mean asking the difficult questions that can occasionally be uncomfortable to answer. It means knowing what’s being considered and how those decisions can best be guided by those who vote and pay taxes.
Most of our governmental entities are small, and it can be difficult at times to follow the action. First thing you need is a scorecard. That’s called an agenda.
For each legally convened meeting, public bodies must produce an agenda and within reason, stick to it. Some of the agendas are online, some aren’t. Many school district, cities and the county will add you to a distribution list if you wish to receive their agendas.
At minimum, agendas are posted somewhere, and you may need to do a bit of investigation to find out where.
In most cases, an agenda comes with a packet of information to support the agenda items. These packets are available to anyone who requests. You may not receive it until five minutes before the meeting, but it is public information. You have a right to follow along with the board, council or commission as the discussion is taking place.
Most of our public bodies have a procedure for receiving public input. Some are more formal than others, but most make every effort to accommodate taxpayers who show up with notes in hand. Determine the rules and then follow them. Don’t expect exceptions to be made for you simply because you are uninformed.
Always be factual in your presentations and discuss the issues, not the personalities involved. No one responds well to name-calling. If you expect your input to be taken seriously, be informed and prepared to answer questions. Provide a written copy of your remarks to everyone present.
A final strategy, enlist others of like-minded concern. There is strength in numbers.
Our form of democracy requires participation. Without it, you get what you get.
This coming year, get off the bench and into the game when it comes to seeing progress in Wallowa County. Take an interest. Be informed. Share what you learn.
By the way, Wallowa County begins its budget process in February when budget sheets are given to department heads. The first county budget committee meeting is usually in late March. Mark your calendars.