Nobody loves a citizen David versus governmental Goliath story more than I do! My radio co-host, Larry Jones, and I consistently encourage our listeners to get out there and get involved. And there’s nothing quite as exciting as watching one determined individual change the world.
But the only thing worse than not getting involved is getting involved in the wrong way. Not only will you utterly fail to accomplish anything, but you’ll end up doing more damage to your cause than good.
So there I was sitting at last Tuesday’s county board meeting when a patient group of five citizens finally got their turn to speak. By then, most of the crowd had departed, but I stuck around to hear what these concerned Carpentersvillians had to say.
But my boundless enthusiasm quickly turned to abject dismay when it became clear this group was trying to quash the Longmeadow Parkway Fox River bridge slated to pass through Algonquin, Carpentersville, Barrington Hills, and unincorporated Kane County.
You see, these sudden citizen activists’ fervent pronouncements and overzealous comportment was all for naught because the fat lady had long since sung before the first one of ‘em got up to speak. To wit, the Longmeadow bridge, an infrastructure improvement that’s been in the works for two bleepin’ decades, is well into its second engineering phase. In the more common vernacular, it’s a done deal!
So, in the end, these overeager folks were engaging in the moral equivalent of trying to get Kane County to ban cell phones. It’s kinda cute, but you’re not gonna get anywhere. And the fact that they hadn’t been paying attention did nothing to deter this group from pressing their agenda. One of ‘em tried to tell the board this county endeavor hadn’t been in any of the newspapers!
Now, you know I’ll be the first one to chide the local tabloids for their sometimes fascinating coverage choices, but not even I can find fault with them this time because this project has been in the papers – ad nauseam – since I relocated to these parts some 15 years ago.
It’s been all over the County website. It’s been discussed at many a city council and county board meeting. And it’s been the subject of many heavily advertised public hearings. Why, if I were subjected to a Freudian word association session and the therapist said “longmeadow,” without hesitation, I’d respond “bridge!”
But when confronted with their Rip Van Winkle tendencies, one of the women said “so what!” and claimed they were just gettin’ started. She said they were going to do whatever it takes to derail this bridge folly and then she demanded to come on Left, Right and You to make her point.
I don’t often feel sorry for those governmental gaggles because no one forced them to run, but after dealing with this group for a mere five minutes (thank you for rescuing me Monica Silva), the County Board has my deepest sympathy.
All I can say is, I’m glad it’s you and not me.
So, since simply telling people to get involved seems to have invited some interesting and unintended consequences, here’s Jeff and Larry’s getting involved checklist:
- Don’t show up 20 years after the fact. Occasionally read a newspaper or simply avail yourself of your county board or local city council meeting agenda which will be prominently placed on the Net at least 48 hours in advance. If you don’t know what’s going on in this social media day and age, then you have no one to blame but yourself.
- Don’t show up 20 years after the fact and demand that any board accede to your wishes NOW! That’s not how government works. In order to accomplish anything you have to build a consensus which typically starts with enlisting your specific county board or city council member.
- Don’t show up 20 years after the fact just to read overly long and flowery speeches in which you ask board members to imagine they were a particular species of bird. Trust me, those folks are crazy enough as it is and if they start acting like birds, those meetings will never end. And, holy crap! The last thing anyone should ever do is encourage T. R. Smith to be even nuttier than he already is.
- Don’t show up 20 years after the fact and behave so obnoxiously that a radio show host and the head of the Transportation Committee simply walk away from you. Your utter unwillingness to listen doesn’t help this or any future cause you may espouse. Local representatives generally respond to well-reasoned and well-articulated arguments, not bullying.
- Don’t show up 20 years after the fact and somehow believe your viewpoint is more important than all the folks who put countless hours and a vast amount of input into a project that’s been discussed since some board members were in junior high school.
And lastly! Please don’t relegate yourselves to a pain in the ass status by fighting against something that, through a boatload of hard work and a massive amount of consensus building, will go forward despite your best efforts. Being a pain in the ass is my job.