How might a citizen advisory committee aid in the reappraisal process? In the SOG publication, “Creating and Maintaining Effective Local Government Citizen Advisory Committees, Upshaw, 2010″, here is the introductory reason to have CACs:
When communities face complex issues affecting large, diverse groups, citizen engagement leads to people being better informed, better able to collaborate with others, and more active in addressing issues that affect them. By sharing responsibility, local officials increase opportunities for citizens to contribute to the common good.
Consultation is a different beast altogether than information sharing. Whereas information sharing is a one way relationship, consultation creates a two way relationship based on citizen feedback. It relies on a fundamental assumption by local leaders that citizen feedback is beneficial to the budget process and decision making (often with regard to expenditures or even tax rate setting). This method provides for and encourages citizen input while still allowing local leaders to define the agenda. The key is that practitioners and elected officials solicit input a set of issues and questions that they create and control.
In the last three blogs we have been talking about citizen engagement (see here, here, and here). One of the areas that is most frustrating for governments is often their attempts to engage citizens are not particularly successful. Citizens may not have time or easy access to the events and resources, but there are ways around that. What happens when it is simply that citizens DO NOT WANT to engage? That is often the reality. Governments spend precious time and resources developing great opportunities but no one (or few) takes advantage of them. This is an aspect of citizen engagement I have been personally interested in and one that I believe we can address by starting ‘em young.
Consider these tactics and efforts the Moby Dick, Wuthering Heights, and Alice in Wonderland of sharing budget information. Except no one makes you read (or watch) these in high school.
The first step, in my opinion, in productive citizen engagement is providing information and helping educate citizens about government and budgeting. This is because government is just a black box to most people. They sort of understand some of the most basic functions of government, but may not have any idea of which level of government does it. Who pays for libraries? Roads? Do I have police and a sheriff? What about fire service? What does the state even do? These are not unrealistic questions. Continue reading
There has been a lot of interest in how to tighten up the relationships between citizens and their local governments. At the local level there is a lot more opportunity to work with and get feedback from citizens. This is accomplished by many communities and in various ways. I believe, and I know this will be shocking, that the budget is the single best place to engage citizens. The budget is the encyclopedia of government. The budget reflects what government does and reflects priorities based on spending decisions, as well as changes in the community as reflected in changes in the budget from year to year.
***I love this quote from a VP debate in 2012. 1) It is true. 2) It is hilarious because we are living in a time of continuing resolutions rather than budgets at the federal level, so I guess we prioritize not making hard decisions and not working together.*** Continue reading
Cities and counties are constructs of their respective states. Counties are almost always created by state constitutional decree. Cities are municipal corporations created by state legislative action. Regardless of the method of creation, states exercise significant control over what cities and counties can and cannot do. From the taxes levied to debt issuances to services that can or cannot be provided, the state determines the role of local governments within its borders. States have been pre-empting local policies at an increasing rate. The National League of Cities has documented a number of these actions. Popular targets are restrictions locally imposed minimum wages (24 states), paid leave (18 states), and public provision of broadband internet (17 states). Of these three, North Carolina is included in all. There are many other areas where states have been pre-empting local actions. This top-down view suggests that local governments have little ability to chart their own course. However, this isn’t quite right. There are many ways that cities and counties push back against state policy. In the news now, Sanctuary Cities in Texas are pushing back against new laws restricting their actions. This is a highly visible example; however, cities and counties often have other options that are less visible.