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Uppity Wisconsin - Progressive Webmasters

« Wisconsin Telephone Deregulation Redux | Main | "Free Holden Caulfield" - Learning To Question Authority »

February 19, 2010

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Mark Clear

I fail to understand the backlash other than as self-serving media-engendered fake controversy. You could spend hundreds and even thousands of dollars to publicize a meeting and nobody would show up. But spend $500 to offer food and childcare, which both encourages and enables people to come, and that's somehow "wrong?" I'm a strong believer in better government participation through snacks.

R.J.

I think we'll be paying anyway for that anonymous donor's benevolence in the form a big juicy contract down the road.

Patrick Fuchs

Mr. Clear,

I disagree with your assessment of the DOT incident as a fake controversy. On the contrary, I think it is important that we as citizens decide whether we would like to permit our public agencies to disperse financial or other material incentives to cajole political participation. There are a number of reasons why hosting a free fish fry is more objectionable than publicity:

1)Fairness. While all public meetings get publicity, not all get fish fry's. Which get fish fry's and who decides? Are citizens to expect fish at all meetings? If the government is going to provide food at all meetings, or even the ones it deems important enough (where do we even begin?), surely the costs will rise beyond $500 per meeting as agencies become reliable diners.
2)Democracy. The concept of paying someone to engage their own interests in a democratic setting seems to undermine the very nature of political participation. We live in a nation which has guaranteed political rights, and the utilization of those rights is largely left up to us-- particularly in this context. Publicity informs people of an opportunity to use their freedoms, whereas fish gives people an opportunity to use their appetites. We might inform people of where to vote, but should we pay them to fill out a ballot?
3)Nature of good. People who are unable to attend cannot enjoy the fish. People who cannot attend might still find the publicity and information useful. One is rival and excludable, and one is not.

These points raise a few more questions:
--Is attendance our primary goal for these meetings, and if so, is the provision of fish the best way to achieve this goal given other concerns?
--What are the unintended consequences of this policy?
--Should this policy implemented by every state agency and every level of government, as notifications of public meetings are?

I am much more sympathetic to the idea of child care at public meetings. The lack of evening child care prevents the utilization of political freedoms, as no meeting means no child care costs. However, the fish fry itself was meant as purely financial incentive, as dinner must be paid for regardless of whether there is a meeting. I think DOT got it half right here and was rightly exposed.

Patrick Fuchs

(I should note, particularly about point 2, that I am aware material pressures often compromise full political participation. Rather, this is a half-baked, haphazard way to address those material pressures. Surely a better, or at least more defined, policy is possible.)

Ty O'Mara

I like this argument, it has merit. I can see the importance of getting people involved in a local decision that will affect their everyday lives. If it takes a fish fry and a couple baby sitters to improve attendance, so be it. That would be preferable to massive complaints and alienation which could result down the line--if the locals found that the changes that were subsequently made were distressful. Just being informed and(or)consulted beforehand also helps ease controversy.

Mr. Fuchs, also, makes very important points--all of which are true and proper. The overriding questions, however: what kind of fish? potato pancakes? A nice fresh tartar sauce(maybe with some finely diced capers in it)? Crisp cole slaw(not sweet)with very little dressing on it? Andeker on draft? If its very lightly breaded lake perch but still crisp and fried til golden, I'm afraid I rule in favor of the drooling masses.

Mister_A_In_Madison

I have always found the DOT to be a little too selective in who they invite to these sorts of meetings.

Granted, there are some areas more directly impacted by their plans than others (and they should certainly be heard from) but adjacent neighborhoods could be impacted by any change in those plans.

Of course, that makes the large assumption that the DOT actually listens to anyone at these meetings. When there were a lot of meetings on this interchange ten or so years ago, the discussion did seem to go both ways.

My impression lately is less one of seeking public input than of meeting statutory requirements... and then doing so in a more factionalized way.

mgm

For crying out loud, it's an enviromental justice thing. I went to an EJ thing in St. John the Baptist Parish in LA. There's a place where EJ is real since it is near refineries.

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