Saturday, September 23, 2023

‘More Citizen Participation, Not Less’: One Resident Denounces Mendocino County’s Proposal to Eliminate Municipal Advisory Committees

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Dear Editor,

As a long-time member and founding Chair of the Redwood Valley Municipal Advisory Council (MAC), I wish to state my opposition to staff’s proposed dissolution of these Councils. First, I was quite surprised that no one, apparently, contacted any MAC members to discuss this proposal. That level of discourtesy is, unfortunately, in line with some recent actions taken by this Board and County staff, and it doesn’t enhance your reputations.

The proposal cites budget savings as the primary reason for this unexpected recommendation. I can’t speak to the various other entities’ activities besides the 6 MACs, but it is notable that the MACs represent at most less than .02% (two hundreths) of the budget savings cited by the County in this proposal (and that is just the years when ALL 6 MACs spend all their allocated budgets, which does not occur). All MAC members volunteer our TIME and RESOURCES.

Staff’s report mentioned not a word of the VALUE of the MACs, both as stated in State law (Ca. Govt. Code 31010, 1971) and in the practices of the MACs in Mendocino County. As required by State statute, we serve in liaison roles for county and other local government agencies. We provide a local, recognized forum for community input, as well as an efficient opportunity for the County, Sheriff, CalTrans, CalFire, Fire and Water Districts, the Community Foundation, and other public interest groups to get their own messages out to our community, and to hear back from our community. We have been grateful for the active participation of our Supervisors (Carre Brown and Glenn McGourty), Sheriffs and their deputies, and so many other agencies who keep us informed, answer constituent questions and help explain the whys and wherefores of many local government activities that would otherwise not be clear to their, and YOUR, constituents. In this, we save you much time and effort.

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After the 2017 catastrophic fires which killed 9 of our residents in Redwood Valley, Darcie Antle and other County staff used the MAC’s liaison role to share vital information about disaster recovery, and we helped put local and state staff in touch with other resources like the Redwood Valley Grange and local community members. Our members helped put representatives from non-governmental organizations in touch with resources and individuals who needed or provided assistance. We helped identify valuable uses for State and Federal reimbursement for the disaster, ensuring that a modicum of the over $16,000,000 in funding would actually be directed to Redwood Valley. The County staff may not have viewed this as beneficial, as the bulk of the funding went to County-wide uses, but the new fire apparatus, support for the water district, and the backbone for a new emergency siren warning system came from these vital funds. These items in particular seem even more important now, after recent events in Hawaii.

The MAC has been instrumental in connecting people in Redwood Valley, in augmenting a sense of community and cooperation. I’m sure this is true for the other MACs as well. An informed citizenry is vital for a healthy society. Nothing is more important, in this difficult age of divisiveness than bringing people together under a common purpose, and in ensuring that diversity is supported. This is a benefit unmeasured by County Staff, but it goes a long way toward ensuring that response to future challenges and emergencies will be better anticipated and coordinated. You can’t buy that.

Furthermore, as the County looks to balance its books, as many and such as they are, it strikes me that the most simplistic approach is to propose spending cuts. But the budget is more than spending. How about spending more time enhancing REVENUE? We may be in a singularly opportune time to go after pots of State and Federal funds. Even one-time expenditures from grants could perhaps fund temporary expertise to address upgrading online systems; aerial reconnaissance to identify buildings not on the tax rolls; pursuing more accurate data for the Supplemental Tax roll and tracking payments of back taxes; temporary CPA assistance to untangle the books; and one-time upgrades to infrastructure systems like roads, wells, and water storage. Have such opportunities been exhausted, or are current staff too overwhelmed with excess work?

This is precisely the moment that calls for MORE citizen participation, not less. The very people you’re proposing to cut from volunteer boards and committees are often the ones who, like myself, volunteer for multiple organizations working for free for the public good. We’re overwhelmingly the ones with time and opportunity to give back to our communities. And when you’re looking at revenue, how about considering that we are also the ones fortunate enough to pay our property taxes on time, shop locally, and thus support your salaries and the workings of this County government. This little county boasts some of the most creative, well-educated and experienced folks I’ve ever had the privilege to live among. Bring OUR RESIDENTS in to help solve your problems. The best democracies, like Switzerland or even America when we’re not busy arguing with each other, are noisy, messy, and sometimes take longer to solve a problem. But in the end, we CAN find consensus. We don’t have to shoot down airplanes like they do in non-democratic countries to silence people of differing views. So let’s work together.

-Chris Boyd, Redwood Valley MAC Board Member

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