Courageous Citizens Speak Up

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There is a lot going in the our city and country right now that requires all of us to stop and consider how we are voting, to get out and vote, but most importantly get information from all sides and make the hard choices among leaders, propositions and measures.

It is difficult to imagine that anyone could think that their vote does not count or that just because so much money can be poured into elections by large corporations and truly rich people that your vote does has no impact. Well it does, and despite the many problems in our election process, informed citizens who speak up, study the issues, and promote good leadership can and will make a difference in our lives.

I have long thought that citizens have become complacent about democracy and many find it easy to blame others for poor leadership. But voter apathy and low turnout give inept leaders the ability to craft whatever legislation they want and partisan practices and decision-making have created the fiscal cliff that we are all hanging on to right now. Not having a strategy to solve the fiscal cliff until after the election is unacceptable and damaging to everyone in this country. It is as ridiculous as people thinking that one man, even the president, can solve all the problems in our country.

I have watched all three debates and have been surprised that so many people have now become so interested in which candidate they will vote for and support as a result of TV. The process started two years ago and we have been able to read, write, and analyze the Obama administration for four years. We also all know what the condition of our country was when in when Obama took office. We have listened to, watched, and seen Mitt Romney on the campaign trail for two years. The way we currently run our country those elected put into place policies and changes in two years and start running for re-election the last two years of their tenure.

Leadership theory tells us that meaningful change does not happen in less than three years and that is considered fast especially in public institutions. And in general that only happens with excellent leadership and people who understand the change process and strategic planning, which includes collaboration, communication, and cooperation. How much of that have we seen in Congress over that last eight years?

I am happy to report, though, that apathy is turning to more engagement on the part of the public, because not getting involved and understanding the issues in our country that are both economic and leadership-driven, as well as global, is sinking us. Many more people are engaged because it has become personal and has affected our home lives and professional lives. Sixty-five million people watched the second presidential debate; we are now watching politics more than football and celebrities dancing. We need to show our country’s leaders that we are mad and not taking anymore of this, by becoming informed voters and showing our strength through our vote in the presidential, congressional, and local elections.

This leads me to why I started to write this column today. We have many issues going on in our city that require residents to step up and become involved in ways that let our council know that you not only have a voice but care enough about your community to take the risk to speak up, attend a meeting, write letters, take a stand, and even put up your money to help others become informed of the many sides of issues affecting your rights and community.

Many of you citizens have been relying on a few columnists from the local papers to speak out on issues that you do not, you call community leaders you know to go to council meetings to voice opinions and write letters, but not enough of you support community citizen leaders by communicating messages to our council through your personal voice. Five regular voices are not enough for the council to decide whether an issue is a citywide concern or simply a disgruntled group speaking out. If you want change in the city you must step up to the plate and support citizen leaders who do the talking for so many of us and support them through your time, energy, presence, and voice. You must do it with knowledge, respect, time, and personal resolve.

Measure EE and the recent dock tax are two prime examples of actions taken by the council that have stirred discussion among many citizens. Measure EE is on the ballot and the dock tax has been decided. It takes courage and time to study the issues and debate them as well as support them on either side. Citizens have taken the time to write about both sides of the Charter changes, and those against it are taking big risks to bring to you their perspective on the Charter. They donate their time and money for signs to bring this to your attention because our governance structure does outline and define how seven elected council members and the city leaders run your local government.

Changes in the Charter can curtail your ability to fight for your rights and what you believe is good for your city, its residents, and local business. Costa Mesa is in a fight about changing to a charter system of government, because of the way in which the new charter is written and the powers it gives to the council. Many people are worried about the way government will be conducted if it changes to a charter model. However, charters, if written well and developed with thought and much review, are excellent tools for local governance. The quality of leadership elected determines to a large extent how the charter is carried out, developed, and implemented.

The changes to the Newport Beach Charter need to be thought out more thoroughly, vetted more with the public and crafted by an elected charter committee as local leader Bill Ficker suggested recently. Since the council selects our committees, very often the councilmembers’ point of view is the one that is finalized. A broader group of citizens in our community needs to be involved in charter changes and analysis.

The citizens against the proposed charter changes have made it clear that they are not against all the changes, they are against some, and they very much oppose the all-or-nothing bundling of the changes in one package. This approach makes it much harder for citizens to vote yes or no when so many questions are at stake concerning citizen protections. And it also makes it difficult for citizens to pass the changes that may assist our local government in functioning more efficiently. We have opportunities every two years to make changes; it does not have to be all or nothing.

A big thanks to all the citizens who have taken their time to bring these issues to us.

That is my take.

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