Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Citizenship and Persistence

It’s always a surprise when, during a Township Committee meeting, the mayor asks, “Is there is any new business from the floor not on the agenda?” and a citizen (or, even better, a group of citizens) stands up.

Over a year ago – fall of 2005 - a group of homeowners stood up and addressed the Committee about a problem with a neighboring business. They probably had no idea that a year-and-a-half later they would still be working their way through the local government system, but these determined people have not wavered.

They have learned how to ask questions and comment, how to look up and understand ordinances and laws and who to ask for help. They have become polite but persistent regulars in every municipal office that could provide them with information. They know what to do when something needs to be numbered as an exhibit and how many copies they need. The three-ring binders and stacks of photographs they carry to every meeting have grown and they know the press and the board’s support staff by name. They attend meeting after meeting and follow every adjournment without complaint.

The professionals involved in these disputes often count on citizens losing interest as time passes or becoming confused or disgusted by the process, but these neighbors have learned how to play the game.

Whether they win or lose or, more likely, end up somewhere in between, you have to admire their persistence and belief in a system that starts with a citizen standing up and telling their elected officials they have a problem.


Some of the more cynical may consider this group’s belief in the system naïve, but it’s still refreshing...and it does liven up the meetings. We can only hope that some of these people stay involved.

This particular problem is now working its way through the Board of Adjustment (unfortunately not televised).

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