“Eighty percent of life is showing up”
Woody Allen, 1970, maybe, maybe not. The problem is there’s no verifiable record.
In a representative democracy, the majority rules, but not the majority of the whole, the majority of the participants, the ones who “show up”.
This is how fewer than six percent of the residents of the city of Lakeland won the right to sit Sara McCarley on its city commission.
The first cut is voting age. You must be 18 or older in order to participate, which reduces the 104,000 who live in the city to about 84,000 or so.
The next cut is voter registration. If you don’t register, you can’t vote. Now we are down to about 67,000. In partisan primaries, only those registered in that party may vote, reducing the count even further.
Then of course, it is the registered voters who actually cast ballots that make the decisions. In the case of the most recent election to replace Michael Dunn, that number was about 7,900.
Ms. McCarley won 5858 votes, or about
74 percent of votes cast, or
8.7 percent of registered voters
6.9 percent of eligible residents
5.6 percent of the population
She will join the six other citizens serving on the commission and will often face an audience for the formal Monday sessions of fewer than 100 Lakelanders who show up to pay attention and participate. Over the last year or so, even the most contentious issues have brought only as many as 60 speakers to the podium but most often only a dozen or so. Some for, some against. A “majority” might be seven.
We do not advocate for this particular form of majority rule, of course, and we expect our representatives to be informed by as many sources as possible, but the citizens who make the time attend to civic affairs in person must be given much value and weight in the equation. Those who cannot, can - and do - make their voices heard in a variety of ways including personal contact, telephone calls, Facebook and text messages, snail-mail and email.
Commissioners often refer to these communications while debating or defending their positions, which is well and good, but missing the key attribute of being “on the record”. A commissioner who declares that he or she has received “numerous” emails or phone calls on a given subject is asking us to accept data we cannot confirm. So maybe, maybe not. Maybe 100, maybe 10.
The point here is that issues of public concern must be considered, debated, and decided in public. Government belongs in the sunshine. We ask only that all citizen participation be part of the public record and that all written communication to commissioners be published in an easily accessed forum, whether it was sent to a city government address or a personal one. Phone calls and casual conversations are harder to manage but a commissioner would be wise to ask the parties to these conversations to put them in writing and on the record.
It is, actually, their duty to do so.
And it is their duty to invite the public to participate. To insist on it, actually.
The Lakeland City Commissioners are public servants in a representative democracy and are bound by their oath to serve the public and its greater good. While four of them are required to reside in one of each of the city’s four geographic quadrants, they and the other three all serve the entire population.
The more of that population - the more of us - that participates, the more representative the majority will be, and therefore more likely to serve the greater good.
When a commissioner makes a case in public that is supported by such private contact and communication, we say, “show us”. Put it on the record. Ask those citizens to show up.