Friday, November 24, 2006

County hosts expo...

Over and over during the past 15 plus years that I’ve been paying attention to local politics I’ve heard countless people say they don’t know much about who does what in local government. They say they don’t know where to go if they have a problem, what the county does for them… and the list goes on and on.

Last Saturday the County went to a lot of trouble give Fayette Countians the opportunity to get answers to some of their questions. They hosted an informative “expo” for citizens at a Fire House on the north end of the county. The notices were posted on the County’s website, in all the local newspapers and, of course, on the Fayette Forum. I personally helped to spread the word, calling those I knew who lived on the North end of the county and sending a few emails.

Representatives from each of the major departments were on-hand with plenty of take-home materials and displays. Department heads and staff came in on their day off to be available for questions. Most of the Commissioners, including the two newly elected commissioners, were on-hand to talk to constituents.

The event lasted for four hours. Unfortunately, less than 35 people wandered through (and that included yours truly with my niece).

I was impressed with all the County staff had done to make the event educational and enjoyable. Well, enjoyable to most --- my 10-year old niece, Naomi, was fairly bored, but she did like the refreshments! We were headed to the Robert Burch old-fashioned carnival at the Fayette County Library afterwards so she had “funner” things on her mind…

Sadly, the low turnout wasn’t a surprise. I used to go to County Commission meetings on a regular basis and have started to do so again. Most meetings, you could fit everyone who attends around my normal-sized dining room. If there’s a hot issue the NIMBY’s (Not In My Back Yard) come out and the chamber can be packed, but decent attendance is the exception.

In fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever been to a well-attended local government meeting of any sort (with the exception noted above, when there’s a hot issue).

During elections I always go to all the debates I can fit into my schedule. There are usually no more than 4 or 5 undecided voters who come to the debates – the majority come to support their candidate.

So, what’s a Commissioner to do? How do they reach their constituents? I’m sure there are many things they could do, but are we as taxpayers willing to foot the bill for some of those innovative ways of reaching out?

If we can’t take an hour to occasionally attend a meeting, or an expo like the one last Saturday, why should they take their days off to track us down? I’m sure someone out there would say that the Commissioners are elected, they signed on for the job and they’re being paid for their time. We in Fayette County have part-time Commissioners. Some, but not all, have full-time jobs. They have families. They get paid far less than any other metro-Atlanta commissioners. They don’t get any of the perks (nor have the asked or wanted them to the best of my personal knowledge).

So… whose responsibility is it to educate the public? If the Commissioners hold an expo and less than 35 people attend, should they try again? I’m sure the Commissioners will attempt another expo. I hope next time you’ll stop by for a few minutes, grab some info and maybe even bring the kiddo’s along so they’ll get a taste of how our government works. (Some of the departments had coloring books to hand out for the kids…)

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