Local Government at its Most Local

I went to a couple of events tonight, both of which were good in the job search arena.  A Beaches Chamber of Commerce council mixer and then the special meeting of the Neptune Beach City Council … where Harriet Pruett, Kara Wade Tucker, and Eric Pardee were sworn in on the Council.

It was at the council meeting that I started thinking about the most local of local governments.  I covered a lot of Jacksonville City Council meetings when I first went to work at WJCT.  I mean a lot.  Every other Tuesday, I’d plan to spend most of the night at city hall, and the rest of it at the station writing a story for our morning magazine show.  The 19 member Jacksonville City Council can be unwieldy at times.  And sometimes the meetings could drag on, and on, and on, and on …

Tonight, the new and newly re-elected members of the Neptune Beach City Council were sworn in, and there were only three little items of business on the agenda.  At the JCC, there could be zoning discussions that could do on for what seemed like hours … and that was never the interesting part of the meeting I wanted for the show.  The agenda could run 15-20 pages, with supplemental and “emergency” items, plus public comments.  Meetings could be marathons.  They still are.

Tonight’s Neptune Beach City Council meeting had the swearing’s-in, and three bills on the agenda.  Three.  One was on first reading.

Doggy Dining passed on third reading.  Only one person spoke to the council in favor of Doggy Dining, and none against.  I almost went up and spoke against, simply to make it fair, and because I’m not really sure I’m all about having dogs underfoot at a restaurant, even outdoors.  But I hadn’t given the issue any thought, don’t feel that strongly about it, and didn’t want to seem like a dog-hater … so I let it go.  It passed unanimously.

The other bill, which was a technical correction on an existing bill, also passed unanimously.  The third was a first reading dealing with education funding.

That was it.  Half an hour, including the swearings-in.  30 minutes.  Local government at its most local.

Now, when the debate was whether WalMart should be allowed to come to town, it was a very different story.  The anti-WalMart crowd packed the tiny meeting room, and were very vocal about not letting them come into Neptune Beach.  Never mind that the zoning allowed it and they would have been paying taxes on a now-vacant strip shopping center.  Never mind they tried to be good neighbors and conform to the local architecture (such as it is) and followed all the rules.  People heard “WalMart” and were up in arms.  I still don’t understand how that happens.  WalMart won, of course, and then decided not to build it anyway.  As the arguing went on, the economy soured, and they decided it wasn’t going to be as profitable as they had originally thought.  So, the shopping center remains empty.

But now that I can, I should go to more local city council meetings.  Maybe volunteer for a board and get more locally involved.  I actually enjoy watching the sausage being made, and ever have ever since Illona Nickols talked about the federal legislature during C-SPAN orientation.  It was the civics class everyone slept through in high school made interesting in an afternoon … and now I enjoy the process.

So that was that.  I had the camera in the car and didn’t take it into the council chamber.  I should have.  But so many people don’t realize that it’s at the local city council meetings … particularly if you live in a town like Neptune Beach, where decisions are made that really effect your everyday life.   The President and federal congress pass and sign laws that sometimes seem so esoteric … but when you realize that it takes “an act of congress” at the local level to allow you to take your dog to the outdoor seating area of a restaurant … that’s where the rubber meets the road.  And it’s why everyone should pay far more attention to who their local representatives are.

It’s that important.


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Filed under City Council, Civics, Local Government, Neptune Beach, Thoughts

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