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Educating the public local governments work is a good idea

April 10, 2013
Westfield Republican / Mayville Sentinel News

Few people not connected directly to municipal government understand how it works.

That can lead to misunderstandings, lost opportunities and avoidable problems.

Who knows what economic development programs are available in the area? What about the powers and duties of the Village Board of Trustees, the Town Council or building code enforcement procedures? Reading the newspaper helps, of course, because reporters explain some of the nuts and bolts of government. Still, many local residents do not fully understand how it works.

A few communities in the United States are doing something about the challenge of citizens who don't really understand their local governments. Fairmont, W.Va., is one of them. Called "Fairmont 101," it is an eight-month class open to the public. Meeting once a month, participants will learn the mechanics of municipal government, ranging from city utilities to public safety.

Something similar might be a good idea in our area. Perhaps working with Jamestown Community College or the State University at Fredonia, Chautauqua County 101, Westfield 101 or Mayville 101 could be arranged with a minimum of work and expense. No doubt communities already offering such education would be willing to provide outlines of how they do it.

Too often, people know more about how their national government functions than about local affairs. That is a shame because no one in Washington, D.C., approves paving of streets in Westfield, water rates in Mayville or countywide police staffing. All of that, and much more of concern to local residents, is done at the municipal level.

Educating local residents on how their government works is an excellent idea.



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