Even though the township consolidation proposal is dead, I think the concept has given us something to ponder.
My original reaction was one of approval. I figured township designations were a holdover from the days when communications had to be sent on foot or horseback and were therefore largely irrelevant to modern society.
But the more I thought about it, I realized my objections were based on the perception that whatever work is done at the township level could be duplicated at a city, county or state level. Why have overlap and redundancy when there could be streamlined efficiency?
That’s when it occurred to me that keeping as much government on as local a level as possible could help reduce bureaucracy. It could also help improve the image of government and increase trust within the population, while simultaneously getting more work accomplished.
Why would this be so? For one, if those who govern are immersed in the communities they serve, then there is more accountability. If you are a lawmaker and you are aware your constituents know you and encounter you on a regular basis, that would, I hope, keep you from wasting public time and money.
Transparency is related to this. It’s a whole lot easier, and perhaps more tempting, to be dishonest (or even just inefficient) when you are removed from those you represent. The distance could be a physical separation or a barrier of communication, in the form of layers of gatekeepers guarding access.
If citizens are able to speak directly with policymakers and feel that they are being heard, then this will go a long way to relieving dissatisfaction with laws, policies and ordinances. This could be in the form of open door policies for office holders, meetings that are open to the public, or discussion meetings where individuals can go to share their views.
The flip side to this is that the local lawmakers need to have the authority to make changes. I would be very frustrated if I were to voice an opinion to my local representatives, only to be told that the decision rests with those higher up on the governmental pyramid. The obvious question would be, “Why can’t that be taken care of here?”
Another reason to keep as much control as possible on a local level is that those in positions of authority know their people. They are aware of the challenges the community faces, as well as what has been tried in the past — what works and what doesn’t. They know the strengths and assets of their citizens.
To expect governors without that knowledge base to make decisions of impact is a recipe for bureaucracy, red tape and inefficiency. There is a good chance that proposed changes might not end up bettering the local community, no matter how well intended. Lawmakers simply must be in touch with those whom their decisions affect.
Government needs to have a face, and it needs to be one we know and have access to. As much authority as possible needs to be held at the ground level of the lawmaking pyramid — townships, cities and counties. States should have autonomy so as to not have to rely on federal government any more than absolutely necessary.
If we are the people, then we need to demand contact with, and efficiency from, our lawmakers. We can’t have a voice with those we’ve never met. If we expect our representatives to work for us, we must do our own part, not succumbing to apathy or helplessness. We can be one community, held together — with accountability and transparency for all.