Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Editorial: Franking frankers!

The unnamed editor is incensed that our Congressman uses his free mail privilege to send us campaign advertising disguised as constituent service information.
     I totally get it, and I agree that most of the time our public officials either don't know or don't care that they're supposed to be using the mail this way to genuinely inform voters about what they're doing. It's reached the point of absurdity, true enough.
     But let's step back for a sec. The franking privilege is one of the few facilities for members of Congress to communicate directly with constituents. Imagine for a moment a theoretical Congresscritter who, out of a pure sense of duty, truly wants to let me know how he's voting on issues and why, what legislation he's seeing, and that he wants my input. Then factor in the elimination of franking for that purpose. What modes of communication are available?
     Is he supposed to finance mailings, or buy broadcast time, or hire a telephone survey company out of his own pocket? Or is he to rely on the commercial media to spread the word? Few outlets are as compliant as Prescott eNews, for example, in printing an official's news releases verbatim (if you're a member of the right party). Fewer still are interested in carrying the dull details that build a useful picture of a complex issue. And there is no medium that reaches every voter other than the post.
     Shutting off the only useful means of communicating with constituents does not make sense in a democracy (or a republic, for all you selective pedants out there). Doesn't it make a lot more sense to look at the Congresscritter's communications and fully take them in as statements about the character and competence of the person we've sent to work for us? From that standpoint, even the most grossly abused mailing is eminently valuable, imho. And it costs us damn little.

Letter: City's price increases hurt local business

Philip Dixon wrote to let us know that the City's pricejacking of regular public events has cost us another one, this time the Contradance Festival, moved to Cottonwood. Responding to what could be read as skepticism in the comments, Warren Miller specified that the City fee for using the Armory had jumped sevenfold year-on-year, forcing the move.
     What my friend Warren didn't cover is why the City has jacked up use fees, not just at the Armory but at the Elks Theatre, at Watson Lake Park and other public facilities as well.
     During the tenure of Steve Norwood as city manager, the City moved increasingly toward the idea that City services should be individually revenue-neutral to the extent possible. Facilities and services that had traditionally been parts of the large basket of City responsibilities came to be seen as separate business enterprises and evaluated based on their narrow cash-in-cash-out balance sheets.
     Those services that cannot bring in cash — things like police, streets and City bureaucracy — have been arbitrarily exempted from this policy as "essential" services, creating a value distinction that pushes Council to lean more heavily on "nonessential" services to "pay their own way."
     Our once vibrant Parks and Recreation Department has been largely gutted. Now we're hearing rumblings about cutting the Library loose, and it seems that our City leaders will not be satisfied until everything that the voters of Prescott have built for quality of life in the past hundred years is privatized or vanished.
     The core purpose of incorporating a municipality is to create a means for a community to work together to ensure security and improve quality of life for all. Obviously the direct use of these services will vary from person to person (including police, fire and streets, of course), but the value they bring is to the community as a whole, not just in individual enjoyment, but in economic vitality as well. Our elected leaders should be looking at the big picture here, and worrying that we're being pennywise and desperately pound-foolish.
      A government, however local, is not anything like a profitmaking business, and cannot be run in the same way. If as a municipal official you find that your budget is not balancing, you can't just throw services over the side willy-nilly. Every one of those services was approved by the community as necessary enough to institute, and complex webs of dependencies build around them linking individuals, businesses, nonprofits and public agencies. I'm not saying you can't cut, but the first thing you have to do is seek the community's input on the continuing need for the service, whether there is majority support for it and, vitally, for paying for it collectively.
      Our problem statewide is that there's a new religion-like moralism holding that community action through taxation is bad across the board and must be eliminated. That attitude leads inevitably to fragmentation and an everyone-for-hermself attitude, chipping away at the bedrock of community. I don't care what your political perspective, I guarantee you really don't want to live like that.