When I was an elected member of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors (I served on the Board from 1975 to 1995), I found that it was common in political discussions to hear talk about what "the County" was going to do, or had done. That expression actually meant "the County Board of Supervisors." The Board was "the County" in common parlance. Board members referred to themselves that way, and so did the public. The same phenomenon is true for cities, of course, and when "the City" does something, it means "the City Council."
I distinctly remember being taken aback when I first realized that my four colleagues and I were being identified as "the County." It just didn't seem quite right. "The County" is so much more than five elected officials.
Yet, the essence of our representative democracy is that a small number of elected officials are, in fact, delegated the power to act for the whole. In terms of governmental action, they are, indeed, "the County," or "the City."
If we care about making representative democracy work, we need to insure that our elected officials don't ever start believing that the common way of talking about our government and community reflects any genuine reality. "We," not "they"(not the elected officials) are the government!
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
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