Building trust in government
By CORA EDWARDS*
Given the fractious nature of American politics, why would anyone run for office? It’s a question I’ve asked myself more than once over the last 12 months, and my answer is always the same: I love Sullivan County, I want to work with others who love it too, and I believe we can achieve great things when we decide to work together.
Our county faces serious problems, and we must face them with a clear-eyed and steady determination. But we also have great potential in ourselves and in our communities. We have people with energy, ideas and experience aplenty who are not being properly used. And we must find ways to involve a much broader swathe of Sullivan County residents in thinking through—and implementing—solutions. We are our own greatest natural resource.
Those I talk to are passionate about creating better jobs and expanding opportunities for our young people, strengthening Neighborhood Watch groups to ensure our communities are safe, keeping our property taxes from spiraling beyond our capacity to pay them, renovating our Main Streets to support vibrant and sustainable communities, keeping the rural character of our land intact and increasing our income from agriculture and tourism, improving our community college, providing our seniors with a viable adult care center and in-home services and instituting disclosure resolutions for legislators and other ethical reforms. For too long the perception has been that politics is an opportunity for private gain rather than an opportunity to serve the public good. We can work toward generating the conviction that government works for all of us and not just for some.
Encouraging more participation and building greater trust are the issues that underlie all of these concerns—trust between constituents and legislators, taxpayers and budget-makers, and elected officials and the employees who carry out the functions of effective government. Now more than ever, governmental agencies have to cooperate rather than compete for a decreasing pool of public funding while the demand for services continues to increase. If we are to navigate the rough economic waters that lie ahead and secure the relief from unfunded state mandates that Governor Cuomo has promised, we have to move our county government to a whole new level of co-operation.
Trust can grow in an atmosphere of open communication and shared knowledge. While we live in an age where communication with our elected officials can be as simple as clicking on a website url or sending an email, writing a letter or making a phone call, we do not always know how our concerns are handled on the receiving end. Fortunately, the size of Sullivan County means that it is relatively easy to meet and speak to legislators and to engage in the policy-making process in a meaningful way. However, many people can’t leave their jobs to attend a public meeting in the middle of the day, so we have to make participation easier by making meetings more accessible and relevant. That’s why, even before taking office, I worked together with the Senior Legislative Action Committee (SLAC) and the Hurleyville Fire Company to organize an evening “Firehouse Forum” on the tax issues we face in our County. Seventy-five people attended, which is a hopeful sign. I hope there will be many more opportunities for direct public participation in our County government in the future.
A stronger partnership between citizens and public servants will surely build more trust in the leadership of our county government, a better understanding of what we can achieve together, and a renewed sense of purpose. Those are the things we need to take Sullivan County forward. So let’s get to work.
[*Cora Edwards is legislator for District 6 Liberty and Hurleyville; however, this article reflects her views as an individual, and should not be taken to represent those of other Sullivan County Legislators.]
(Footnote: A podcast of the Firehouse Forum is available at the WJFF 90.5 FM website, broadcast date December 26, 2011 on WJFF Connections and Making Waves Programs, www.wjffradio.org/wjff/index.php?section=38.)