On July 4th, an appropriate time, I read that California is one of the least patriotic states (#48). The two indicators are military engagement (#37) and civic engagement (#48) – both are logical due to our immense size.
Civic engagement included adults voting (low but not surprising). In a state the size of California don’t you feel your vote is little value among almost 40 million people? But your vote is important in one sector, and can make a difference – local government (city council and school board elections) and local government is the backbone of democracy.
My strong feeling about local government’s importance developed years ago by active participation in local committees and commissions in San Leandro. With local government, as compared to state and national government, all citizens can become directly involved. Not only is it easy to attend government meetings but local elected officials are neighbors, members of churches and local organizations, and parents of children’s friends. Galt’s small size means you easily can meet your city council or school board members at the store, a recreational ball game, church or local restaurant.
My additional reason for following local government is that my property taxes are the funding source – or were until Jerry Brown under Proposition 13 funneled those taxes to the state and then doled them back. Local taxes fund our parks, library, police and fire, local roads, and much of our school budgets. I like to know where my money is going, don’t you?
California’s legislature mandates far too many laws for cities, school districts and special districts. That’s why you have higher taxes on gasoline, special fees for refuse, and money going to special school programs. (More in future columns.)
Many of you as Galt Herald subscribers want to know what is going on in your community. Others are interested in city or the school district decisions. Still more have a child in athletics and want access to the excellent sports coverage. Reasons vary. Fortunately, you support your local paper, which is important to our democracy.
As an opinion writer, my intent in this column is to look at details happening in our city, school districts and special district that may not be covered in a straight news story. Amazingly, news is supposed to be news and not opinions. That happens in the Galt Herald and most of the other local newspapers with which I am familiar. It doesn’t necessarily happen on any of your internet news, nor, for the most part, on TV nor regularly in prominent newspapers or magazines.
Why is a decision made by the city council? Why do school districts spend more funds on one program over another? What is the Cosumnes Special District doing?
This examination doesn’t mean finding corruption in every decision but analyzing the circumstances behind, for example, a rezoning, a resignation, an audit, or some other government or legislative decisions that affect local government.
At the same time, when wise decisions are made, they, too, need analysis and praise.
Because local government is the backbone of democracy, when I taught high school civics I started with local government, much to the bane of my department head. I was supposed to start at the Constitution and Federal government, hopefully reaching local government by the semester’s end.
As a new teacher, I was given the worst Civics class at sixth period when the athletes, student leaders, and top students were busy elsewhere. Obviously, my class only wanted to finish sixth period to go to work – or play!
We started by being stranded on a desert island. Quickly, they understood the necessity of rules (laws) to survive. Then I started with San Leandro’s city government. My local activity meant I knew city councilmen (no women then) so invited them to speak to the class. We toured city hall, which included the police facilities and jail. I discovered some 18-year-old class members were familiar with the holding cell.
After they learned of city government functions, they were to think of a neighborhood problem that needed fixing. They decided on an unsafe railroad crossing. We wrote a letter to city council, then appeared before the council when the issue was on the agenda. Two of the students presented the class viewpoint – and the council moved to rectify the problem with a new ordinance!
The following fall, a girl from the class who had graduated returned to tell me she was running for City Council. While she didn’t win, she and her friends demonstrated the strength of San Leandro youth. A few years later another student, upon college graduation, not only won a city council seat but became an Assembly member.
This is your column. Send ideas, questions, your observations. Galt is a small town, thank goodness. We need to participate – not as naysayers but as responsible citizens who want the best for our city, schools and special district – and want to be heard. Send your comments to email@example.com.