The League Observes Local Government

LWVnorthfield.jpgJane McWilliams is a long-time friend of mine. She was a good friend of my late Mother-in-Law, Marjorie Cox, she sings in the choir of my church, the UCC, she served on the Planning Commission with me some years ago, and she is currently helping me with ArtSwirl. We met the other day, to talk budget, and she shared a little about her role as Observer for the League of Women Voters.

I’ll admit, as a member of a Triumvirate that claims to aggregate active blogs that focus on community issues, I had to ask myself why we weren’t paying proper respect to the League’s site. In my never humble opinion, they compare favorably with any with which I am aware.

Jane’s report on Monday night’s Council Meeting is a case in point. It is as thorough as any summary that I have seen and seems to strive hard to be objective. At the very least, it highlights all of the important topics discussed at the meeting.

Of particular interest to me was the discussion of the Boards and Commissions. It appears that the Arts and Culture Commission asked for some funding and as a result the Council began to discuss their individual philosophies regarding these citizen-staffed entities.

If I can try to understand the two perspectives, our elected officials seemed to differ on whether the members of the Boards and Commissions were supposed to independently come up with recommendations to the Council or were supposed to dutifully carry out the wishes of the Council. I suppose that these two points of view could either be considered semantic nuances or polar opposites.

I thought was grist for an interesting discussion mill. Should the Boards and Commissions be independently thinking about how to best achieve the goals of the community or should they be steadily and systematically implementing the specific objectives of the Council?


  1. Tracy Davis said:

    Thank you for the post, Ross. Here’s the link to the LWV Observer reports of meetings of the:

    * Northfield City Council
    * Northfield Planning Commission
    * Economic Development Authority
    * Northfield Hospital Board
    * Northfield School Board
    * Rice County Board of Commissioners

    May 15, 2008
  2. Larry DeBoer said:

    Good question Ross. It comes up every time controversial issues come before the boards and commissions, who are not elected, but supposedly have some citizen interest in the issue the commissions face. But, as always, it is the responsibility of the ELECTED OFFICIALS to represent the wishes of the voting citizens. As ELECTED Officials they are responsible for setting the agendas and providing priorities to the commissions. The Council’s final decisions are the ultimate test of whether my vote for that Councilor will continue.

    In Northfield Government, we have a defined city limit and only those who live within the city are eligeable to vote on any issues the city faces. What I feel is happening in Northfield City Government is that anyone who comes before the Council and various Boards and Commissions with opinions and letters to the editor or various blogs on the internet are not required to state their voting jurisdication. When many of those non-voters-in-Northfield “stuff the ballot box” with opinions for the Boards and Commissions – and the Boards and Commissions begin to take the opinions as authentic Northfield majority feelings, then the City Council has to step in and make the correct decisions based on the feelings of the electorate.

    While the opinions of the townships, Dundas, Lonsdale, Webster, Union Lake and Dennison might be useful to the Northfield Area Chamber of Commerce, they do not belong in the decision process for the Boards and Commissions – who also must be voting citizens of the Northfield City Limits.

    So, while the Boards and Commissions may offer some good suggestions to the Council, I want my elected Council to make decisions based on his or her electorate base.

    May 15, 2008
  3. kiffi summa said:

    The issue of how independent the Boards and Commissions should be arose directly from the discussion of funding those groups; there were unfortunate terms used in the discussion such as “lockstep” and “cowboying” that I felt were extremely negative to the idea of volunteer citizen boards who are there to use their areas of expertise in advising the council.

    Larry: you are correct in saying that the ultimate authority lies with the council vote/ decision, and therefor the council (IMHO) should not worry about what initiatives the B&Cs want to present, as they (Council) will either support or deny support.

    All these separations are quite clearly made in the orientation manual for elected officials. In the ten years I’ve been attending council meetings , I have never before heard this come up as a area of concern.

    Perusing Commission minutes looking for perceived possible improprieties does not seem to be a wise use of a council person’s time. I would agree with the Mayor and Arnie Nelson that the independence of these citizen Boards and Commissions is important to encourage, as a source of ideas which the council might wish to consider.

    Council and Staff have their hands full with the everyday needs of running the city, and could actually spend a lot more time on policy discussions. The citizen Bs&Cs have generally been considered to be a valuable resource.

    After all, having the aye or nay vote is pretty much the final word; why discourage thoughtful behavior? To do so sends the wrong message. There have been times when it has been very difficult to get enough people willing to volunteer for these important advisory positions. Let’s not discourage public input, especially when the council can always choose to not accept it.

    Talking about controls, when you already have the ultimate power of the vote, is not a principle straight out of the “Age of Enlightenment”.

    May 15, 2008

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