Sunday, September 6, 2015

County Commission Acts on Transit -- Consistently with Voters' Wishes

I've heard complaints that the County Commission has somehow betrayed its constituents by approving funds for mass transit; but whoever's complaining may not understand the county's action or the concept of representative democracy – or doesn't want to understand.

Although many of us have cars, many do not. Poverty, age, illness, or disability prevents them from driving into town, to shop or even for medical appointments. That can be a major problem for folks in rural areas.

Last November, voters rejected a proposal to raise the GRT to provide $10 million annually to fund a special transit district.

Many folks agreed something should be done about transit, but thought $10 million was a lot to ante up when the extent of the problem wasn't fully clear. They voted “No” because they didn't think the buses would get used enough to warrant such an outlay, but they recognized there was a need. Many suggested that a scaled-down service with smaller buses and fewer routes, targeted to meet specific needs, would help show the size and nature of the actual demand.

I heard and read enough statements from people, some old or ill or handicapped, to feel convinced there's a need. At the same time, I had doubts about the scope of the project as proposed. But those were doubts about the size of the market or certain assumptions by the organizers, not about the basic need.

I don't know how fully the organizers polled the business community ahead of time. While businesses would tend to oppose a GRT increase, they should welcome an affordable mechanism that enables more potential customers to get into Las Cruces. They might also have had insights into running the thing in a reasonably businesslike fashion.

Most of the opposition I heard (including a Sun-News editorial) was to the project's scope and total cost, not to the basic idea.

The Commission heard the voters loud and clear, and neither revived the $10 million proposal nor ignored the need for buses. Commissioners approved using $750,000 on a scaled down project. That is, they're spending less than ten per cent of the amount the voters rejected.

Far from ignoring the citizens the County Commission would seem to be listening to all the citizens, those opposed to taxes and those in need of services, and making a reasonable compromise.
Which is an important tool in government.

We live in a representative democracy. Not ancient Athens, where the entire male population of Athens could serve as the jury in Socrates's trial and decide his punishment. Not a Vermont Town Hall, where the entire population of East Pancake can vote on how much to spend on the volunteer fire department.

So we elect representatives who are tasked with studying matters in detail, folks we believe are qualified by some combination of wisdom, experience, political views, personality, intelligence, diligence, etc. to make reasonably sound decisions that generally represent what most of us think, or what most of us would approve if we knew all that our representatives have taken the time to learn. There's no promise that each of us will agree with our representatives' votes on each specific issue.

The Founding Fathers envisioned us electing such representatives based on some combination of prudence, good judgment, smarts, honesty, and loyalty that made them sensible stand-ins for their constituents – not because we agreed with them on a particular issue. Or were of the same Party. The Founders didn't really contemplate these huge political parties.

What the County Commission did seems sensible; it reasonably addresses a known need; and it probably followed the will of a large segment of County voters.

[The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 6 September and will appear on the KRWG-TV website later todayThe Sun-News headline was "County Commission Listens to All Voters" -- which is fine, and close enough to what I'm saying on this issue in this column, but sounds a little more purely positive than I feel about our county government.   I think we have a basically good set of commissioners who have intelligence and skills, and a lot of diligence, and are working hard to solve an abundance of problems in the best ways for all of us.  They're trying to do the right things, and often do.  At the same time, there are critical problems: the Detention Center; discordance between the County Sheriff and other parts of county management; the problems discussed in my earlier columns regarding the Kim Stewart case -- and probably to be discussed a little further in my next column or the one after.  I have grave doubts about the failure to settle the Kim Stewart case; about another case wending its way toward trial; about the Human Resources Department; and about whether County Manager Julia Brown will fulfill her early promise or is sliding into some of the same patterns and problems her predecessors had, and ultimately toward a messy dismissal.]

No comments:

Post a Comment