November 3, 2012 by wcobserver
The Risk of Voting FOR
The ballot initiative being presented to West Fork voters on Tuesday is a game changer. Voting to elect a mayor or council member has a built in safety valve; if your choice turns out to be a mistake, at least, it will be rectified when the four year term ends. At the same time, if your choice works well for you, it may not be repeated with the next mayor or alderman. This ballot initiative will change city government in a fundamental way; it will change how the individual components of city government are connected to each other. To use a mechanical metaphor, the way the gears and wheels interact will determine the performance of the machine. The ballot initiative is about the structure of city government, not the individuals who occupy any position in government. Governments are the administrative equivalent of machines with interchangeable parts.
So, obviously, there is a risk in tinkering with the way the parts of city government in West Fork are connected to each other. Police, Fire, Courts, Parks, Planning, Streets as well as all the other functions that local government is expected to provide, are linked to the citizens by the empowerment of elected officials to oversee those functions to the benefit of all the citizens. The buck stops at the ballot box.
The most essential of city services, water and sewer, were entrusted to a “separate entity,” some forty years ago in West Fork before it evolved from a village on the river to a modern town. The Commission was needed to provide stability, legitimacy and oversight to the transition from wells and river to a clean water distribution system; from outhouses to a sewage treatment plant. Thirty years ago, West Fork provided its own water and handled its own sewage. That’s changed. Now the water is purchased from Fayetteville and soon the sewage will flow there, also. The logical, reasoned argument for having the “separate entity” has eroded. After a series of management misadventures linked to the Commission’s oversight of the system, a significant number of citizens want to abandon the “separate entity” concept. They want the water and sewer system to be part of the city in the same way the other departments are. They want water and sewer accountable to taxpayers; to be part of the city budget process and operate more efficiently and with more transparency. They want the oversight of water and sewer to be with elected officials rather than a self appointed group. And, there’s the risk.
People are heard asking, “Won’t we just be moving the oversight of water and sewer from one bunch who mismanaged it to a different group, the city council, who may mismanage it, also.” That’s a hard one to answer. Many people view the current council as ineffective in communicating a vision for the town’s future evidenced by some of their actions and votes on zoning, the website, audits, festivals and personnel. The council has the power to chart West Forks course, with or without a ballot initiative. If the voters don’t make some changes in the makeup of the council and elect candidates with some administrative experience and a commitment to presiding over an efficient, professionally oriented, open government that obeys the law, then we’re all relegated to second class status for a town that should be the jewel of the county.
With every risk, comes a benefit. Sure, there will be a rocky transition period bringing water and sewer into city government. And, yes, there are details to flesh out. But, if it is the will of the people to navigate our town to a more tranquil, prosperous and inviting place, then the benefits will be worth the risk.