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Lake County Townships Not Bubbling with Participatory Enthusiasm

It’s kind of tough to represent rural interests in government if rural interests don’t show up to the meetings. The Lake County Commission held a public meeting on its five-year road and bridge plan last week, and representatives of only three of the sixteen townships in Lake County showed up:

Shelli Gust, commission administrative officer, asked if commissioners had any suggestions. Commissioner Adam Leighton noted that 90% of those serving on township boards are farmers and in the fields at this time of year.

“I’ve only been to one since I’ve been on the commission that was well attended, and that was on a rainy day,” Commissioner Dennis Slaughter observed [Mary Gales Askren, “Townships Not Well Represented at County Highway Plan Meeting,” Madison Daily Leader, 2022.10.05].

Moving the meeting out of harvest season would require changing the budget calendar… so how about webcasting the meeting?

Gust explained that holding the meeting prior to harvest isn’t an option because the plan is driven by the budget, and the budget isn’t approved until September. She also indicated the county has tried offering multiple meeting times, and that did not increase attendance.

Commissioner Aaron Johnson asked if the meeting could include a Zoom link for those who were interested in the information provided, but were unable to attend. Leighton concurred.

“I was in the combine. I could have listened,” he said [Askren, 2022.10.05].

If the township board members can’t make the meetings, perhaps the county commission could send them the proposed plan and ask for their input in writing. Perhaps the townships themselves, if they are viable and vibrant exercises in local government, could elect folks who can fit important government meetings into their schedule. Or perhaps the idea of sixteen government entities operating within a 24-by-24-mile square of mostly depopulated farmland doesn’t make sense and all the jurisdiction really needs is one county commission to carry out infrastructure policy.

2 Comments

  1. John 2022-10-11 08:46

    Oh, malarkey. Hold the meeting before the budget. Determine need, then a range of percent allocations. When the budget comes in . . . apply the budget range of percentages. It ain’t rocket science. Commissions must stop pretending they require perfect information to make routine decisions. Commissions need to remember for whom they work.

    Cory’s also spot on about the rural depopulation. Perhaps townships, in many cases, no longer merit representation. Dirt doesn’t vote. We must stop acting like dirt votes. There is a failed socio-economic model in rural America that empties the land, schools, small towns, and counties. We must undue the 18th and 19th century economic models of an expanding westward frontier. The frontier has been marching eastward since the 1930s and its long past the time to account for it in our socio, economic, and electoral systems.

  2. Arlo Blundt 2022-10-11 13:12

    The harvest is likely a reason for the low turn out at the County Board meeting, but participation in County Board meetings is always dismal. Roads and Bridges are the big issue that these Boards handle annually. You have a certain amount of Scandinavian passive aggression at work here. After the Board has made a decision on roads, after the harvest is in, when it starts to snow and bad roads turn worse, say, December, there will be a turn out to protest the boards decision and ask for reconsideration of road priorities for the coming year.

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