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The time is now to engage your citizenship

The government that affects us most is the one that lives closest to us. Whatever passion one may have for issues and actions by federal, state, or even county government, should be focused most intensely on the city and its commission and management staff.

Their decisions will change our lives.

Right now, we - citizens, city, and commission - are involved in a debate that could lead to a significant change in building regulations allowing much taller and more densely packed structures in the heart of the city and its 100-year-old historic neighborhoods.

And the process is a perfect example of how government gets done and illustrates the flaw that is introduced when citizens fail to engage. The idea for taller buildings and more residents came primarily from two of the seven commissioners serving as the previous administration: Edie Yates - who left the commission as a result of term limits - and Jim Malless - who was defeated in last November’s election.

Whether or not it is a good notion isn’t really the issue, yet. The issue is that it came from the commission, or two commissioners, to be more precise. It is not the function of elected representatives to think up new ways to change things. Their sole responsibility is to serve their constituents by discovering what changes - if any - they want.

The record reflects that, when asked, all other commissioners agreed, voting unanimously to move forward. They are seven. We are one-hundred thousand. We mostly certainly do not all agree, on this, or anything else for that matter. So virtually all unanimous votes by the commission can fairly be said to have ignored dissenting views.

One side effect of such votes is that they can be used to bolster support and provide credence for positions that may need further examination and challenge, but escape in the name of solidarity.

It is not the fault of the commissioners. It is ours. We cannot expect our representatives to listen to concerns they cannot hear. We must speak up or risk being ignored. In-person meetings, phone calls, letters, and email are all available and viable forms of communication. We must do better. And now is the time.

The Planning and Zoning Board began its consideration of this proposal at their April meeting and spent an entire hour hearing from city staff, affected citizens, and their own members. The whole hour is worth watching, but a nine-minute video of the highlights will probably suffice.

Julie Townsend, LDDA Director and President of the Lake Morton Neighborhood Association noted that, maybe “… we weren’t all paying attention … but we need more public input.”

Yes we do.

The Planning and Zoning Board will consider this proposal again on May 15th, when they are expected to make a recommendation. If it matters to you - and it certainly should - learn more about it, talk to each other, and reach out to the commission and/or the city’s planning office to register your viewpoint.

It's important to note that the process is working right now. The city staff and the Planning and Zoning Board are doing their jobs. We must do ours. This is how representative government gets done.

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