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Our local democratic institutions were designed like a four cylinder engine. Unfortunately, our local engine of government putters on two cylinders. One cylinder is missing, another isn’t firing as intended. One result: Sub-optimal performance and insufficient tax base for public services. Fortunately, there is an easy fix. That fix is described in the original design.
The original design of local government features 4 distinct on-ramps for change, the four-legged policy stool. According to this design, change can originate from one of four sources, ultimately to be voted upon by elected officials.
An excellent graphic of the four on-ramps to change is found on Pg. 2 of the City of Redding Policy Overview & Flow Chart (below). Policy proposals come to elected officials from four distinct groups, half are comprised of citizens, the other half being staff.
The first on-ramp for change is a “Standing Committee”. Standing committees inform, report, and sometime recommend. Rules for Standing Committees are well described in any Parliamentary Procedure manual.
Interestingly, a form of Standing Committee is proposed by proponents of Shasta County’s public safety tax increase, in the form of a 9 member oversight committee and advisory body. While this is an excellent example of use of a standing committee, it’s not exactly how the system was designed to operate. Ideally, a standing committee would be empowered BEFORE big moves were made. Citizen input should be represented during deliberation and investigation of policy options.
Two examples clarify the distinction. The first is public safety, the second is housing policy.
Empowering a standing committee before a tax measure is placed on the ballot would allow Redding the opportunity to evaluate options and weigh alternatives. Perhaps Redding is receiving more than its share of released felons? One option would be to make sure that doesn’t happen. It may be that promised savings from early release were to be deposited into a Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund, and that Redding isn’t getting its fair share of that money? An empowered standing committee on public safety may have discovered, prior to an election, that changing the timing of the feeding of prisoners could yield 60 more beds for Shasta County Jail. Jailing 60 of Redding’s worst offenders certainly must take a bite out of crime.
Consider affordable housing policy. Recently, California passed a new fee for affordable housing. The term “fee” is California speak for tax, just as ‘affordable housing’ infers highly subsidized housing. First year local affordable housing fee revenue is estimated at $2.7 million. This money was promised to be repatriated locally. A standing committee on housing could suggest alternatives to who gets that money or how is it spent. Absent a standing committee on housing, and you get the modern equivalent of taxation without representation.
Standing committees were designed into our system of government. The term ‘standing committee’ infers empowerment: full access, transparent government, civic involvement. Why not? Administrative simplicity?