Local Participation Leads to Change

The most common question I get asked is, “Why did you want to be Mayor?”  It’s not a simple question to answer at first, but with a little rumination, I realized I ran for Mayor because I learned that a person could most affect their world when they participate at the local level.  In five years on the City Planning and Zoning Commission, four of which were as the Chair, I saw the real effect citizens have on public policy.

For example, backyard chickens were against city codes, and a single citizen approached the city and successfully changed the policy.  In another case, two citizens petitioned the City to alter zoning so that someone could not build or remodel a house in a manner that didn’t fit in with the existing character of the homes on the same block. The final guidelines were based simply on mass and scale after a long and often excruciating process, but the applicants stuck with it for two years and accomplished what they were seeking through a compromise that a hundred neighbors could live with.

I felt like those defending their property rights eventually agreed that deep down it was a good idea, and most of them were okay with the end result.  Of course some didn’t agree with it at all, but their comments were clearly considered in the final result. The point is – a lot of folks were paying attention. There was recently a controversial duplex built in a neighborhood without this ordinance, and it would be interesting to survey that neighborhood on their feelings about such an ordinance now.

When I watch our Federal “representation,” I am overcome with the sense of helplessness. I could go and complain, rant and holler and give whatever input I might have, but I know it will never be considered.  They will just continue to “represent” their “constituents,” whoever they are. They think that no one is paying attention. The sad thing is they are mostly right.  Congress has not represented my interests for two decades now; therefore, I register as an unaffiliated because both parties claim to represent me. However, in actuality, neither do. I vow to pay attention to my constituents.

Mr. Rahe recently invited me to speak to his fourth grade government classes at Longfellow. I spent about a half hour in each of the three classes discussing government, elections, budgets, levels, boards, commissions, special districts (which they asked me about), and, most of all, the importance of paying attention.

I was also able to convey how 3 cents on the dollar can add up to 5 million dollars, and that it’s probably pretty important to pay attention to how your City Council decides to spend it. When I demonstrated how we lose those 3 cents when people spend their money out of town, the look on their faces told me they clearly got it. So, if your children deride you for shopping on the I-25 corridor, make sure you let me know about it.  I will be happy that they were paying attention.

Salida Mayor Don Stephens