Archive for May, 2009

Townships?

With several recent news items regarding conflicts between County and Township entities, one wonders if the multilayer nature of Illinois Government is a thing of the past. There is a real need to be cost effective these days, and more than ever the function of a Township, especially an urban one, may be an added burden no longer relevant. Once the only real form of rural representation, most of the work in the township short of the road maintenance may best fall on a more central form, with the opportunity for more uniform coverage.

Recently the conflict was once again seen at the county level when a local Township supervisor, John Jay of Mahomet, who is also a County Board member from District One, had to abstain from a vote at the county level because his township protested the Wind Farm Ordinance. Had Mr. Jay not been in both positions he would have had an opportunity to vote for his District, he chose to be in several places at once and in doing so served none.

The same could be said for a bulk of what happens daily, the filter of controls now steps slowly through these many layers, some with very different mindsets, before the rubber hits the road. Does Newcomb Township need a plan commission? They serve no planning function and only seem to serve to protest County actions. Likewise, does Mahomet Townships plan commissioner, a Realtor and developer, have the best interests of the Township or his income in mind when their function again is only to protest.

Why so much overlap? There seems to be little cohesiveness between townships and their operation, and with plan less plan commissioners and poorly attended township business meetings, with little public access to the information they are acting on, perhaps it is time to pull the strings a little tighter and save some resources everywhere we can.

Please discuss.

Commentary From Scott Hays

Two articles of note came to my attention today: one with which I strongly disagree, and one with which I strongly agree. The one I strongly disagree with was written by my colleagues Brian Gaines and Jim Kuklinski in my parent unit at the University of Illinois, the Institute of Government and Public Affairs. This article, first appearing in the News-Gazette, recommends opposing Senator Mike Frerich’s bill expanding access to absentee voting. The authors claim that such an approach reduces secrecy and increases the likelihood of fraud. Neither claim is supported by the authors with facts, data or other analysis, and neither passes the ‘sniff’ test of common sense. How is it secret currently when primary voters in Illinois publicly state their ballot choice when voting in primaries, in the eyes of election officials and poll watchers? And why would it not be more secret for voters to cast their primary ballots from the privacy of their home? One’s private residence seems like a very secret place to cast a ballot to me, unless fraudulent political machine bosses are planning on invading our homes to watch us complete our election ballots. Or are we afraid of our privacy being violated by our spouses? Our children? Our roommates? Our parents? Our dogs? In all cases, such violations are bothersome, but I’m not sure they would necessarily constitute political problems.

Surprisingly, the article I agree with is an editorial published in the News-Gazette regarding Freedom of Information. When public officials hide behind vague issues of ‘privacy’ when dealing with employment contracts or hiding criminal records of public officials, we have major problems. In my own Newcomb Township, our officials have shown that they wish only to adhere to the narrowest interpretation of our Open Meetings Act by providing the least information to the public that they can. Public officials too often forget that tax dollars are our dollars, and that they very much ‘belong’ to we, the people. Their actions are public actions. Open government is messy, and that is the point. The more public officials know their every action is open to the scrutiny of the public, the more inscrutable their actions are likely to become. I support open government: open records and open meetings so that public officials, metaphorically of course, stand naked before us.

In addition, open access of the ballot to all citizens on demand aptly reinforces this notion of accountability. Hear the word ‘voter fraud’ and know that someone is subtly at work trying to deny citizens access to the polls. And usually that means certain classes and types of citizens. In my mind, we need a democracy that not only talks the talk, but proudly walks the walk out in the sunshine and stands out as a model, rather than standing behind a fearful shroud of secrecy, privacy, and potential for fraud.

Scott Hays

Sangamon Valley Alliance

Is It Time To Open The Door?

Senator Arlen Spector made the move to the Democratic party this week, is this a sign of things to come not just nationally but locally? For his own reasons the Senator from Pennsylvania jumped the aisle in Washington, perhaps to survive a primary he thought he could not win, or a realization of the changing demographics in his state or is the digging in of his former party the real cause for such a move? If there is no room in the GOP for anyone who finds Rush and Miss California not their best face forward then it may be time locally to get the doors and minds open and swell the ranks. Are we willing to let them in?

The rural districts in Champaign are changing, the move out of the twin cities was fast and furious until the recent slowdown and our local demographics have changed out in the open land. There is a bigger number of closet Democrats outside of town and the time to focus their attention is ripe. In town there is a contingent of Greens and Independents who could be in our fold with little trouble. The upcoming primary looks to be a time for the Democrats to get names on the ballot in any race available, and give the people on the fence a reason to get out and pull a Democratic ticket, it would be an opportunity to get a head count and see where inroads are being made.

Are there potential party jumpers around you, if we give the undecided a nice place to land then the decision may be easier, if the ground looks to hard maybe not and that can in part explain the growth of third party support. Are we willing to soften up the ground? We will never get folks like Mark Thompson, and we should not try, but can we reach for Joe Average and better our own party at the same time. Will we open the door?

[Editor's Note: This post is unedited. As this site becomes more active (thanks, Ben!) , I will edit less and rely more on our home page disclaimer: Blog posts and comments are solely the opinions of their authors].