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Saturday, 19 February 2011


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matthew richard

on this very topic, i submitted the following to the VDT today:

To the Editor:

As citizens of countries in the Middle East continue to rise up, observers in the United States advise that as long as despots in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere continue to thwart the development of Civil Society—the assorted voluntary civic and social organizations and institutions that constitute a check on state power—their regimes will continue to be subject to demonstrations and revolt. American politicians and commentators are right to decry this repression.

And yet, when it comes to conditions “in our own backyard,” there exists a curious discrepancy. Here, in Lowndes County, we find our local government officials employing tactics similar to those of Middle East despots. Though they would probably profess support for Civil Society, in reality they seem more interested in stifling it. As we’ve seen over the past few months, city and county officials have been maneuvering to limit citizen participation in Council and Commission meetings. They’ve made clear their desire to impose a speaker limit (no more than three per topic, which might give the general public the impression that a given issue—like biomass—has little support; this being the assumption, citizens might ask themselves, why should I care when no one else seems to?). This particular repressive action would complement the already existing time limit placed on speakers wishing to be heard—currently four minutes. So, again using the biomass proposal as an example, debate of serious issues might conceivably be limited to no more than 12 minutes. Officials have also decreed that they will decide when sufficient discussion of an issue has occurred, after which the matter will be deemed closed.

This package of anti-democratic measures amounts to a “blank check” with which local officials and their cronies will be able to do just about anything they wish. Clearly, our “public servants,” much like their Middle East counterparts, are not interested in checks and balances. As the clock winds down on the biomass fiasco, however, it’s clear that local residents still have many questions. We want to know the details of this taxpayer-financed biomass fraud. Specifically, who are the local partners who would willingly jeopardize our health? And what price have they put on it? What specific transactions have taken place so far, and how much money has been spent in the construction of this bogus narrative that claims that biomass is clean, green, and cheap? Time and again, however, we are ignored or silenced by the council and the commission. Do the people of Lowndes County really want civil servants like these? If council and commission members don’t enjoy serving the public, then why do they run for office? Wouldn’t they be more content at the beach, sunning themselves right beside Hosni Mubarak?

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