public participation

Get Excited and Get off Your Butt…It’s primary voting day!

excitedPrimary elections are today.  Are you excited?  You should be.

Politicians and government often get little respect; even the good ones.  Some of the disrespect is rightly earned; the natural consequences of selfishness and greed displayed by men and women who swore to faithfully represent the people who elected them by good example and honesty.  However, I think much of the disrespect we-the-people give our elected government is just plain, ugly, and lazy cynicism.

When I complain, it is usually a drive-by, thoughtless criticism.  A trusted leader (or at least someone who should be a trusted leader) does something I disagree with or does something truly wrong and I just blurt out, “Oh that good for nothing what’s-his-name!  How could he do such a thing.  If I were in that position I surely would have made the common sense decision.  What a bum!”  Then I browse through the morning news and find someone else who shares my opinion. Not only someone like me, but a person of credential and prestige, a bona-fide reporter, a man or woman of the world.  Oh boy, someone of class and experience agrees with me.  I knew I was right!

And then, a little bit of empathy smacks me on the head.  I see that no good, dirty, villainous government agent as I should, I see him as my neighbor.  A fellow wanderer of this world, searching for the same light I too so desperately need.  The next thing I know, the grace so freely given to me starts to react and rise inside my heart and that still small voice reminds me that the scoundrel I’m shaking my fist at is human too.  A man or woman who needs my prayers not my betrayal.  For to give up on this thing we call a Republic is to betray my fellow citizen and my God.

If I simply join in the rampant cynicism we mistakenly call “just-being-honest” or whatever party label we want to attach, then I abandon my privilege granted to me by the Constitution of this country, and I might as well spit on all the good and noble things my grandparents and their parents did before me.  Not just the “Greatest Generation” but those before them; even those tilling the soil of this country long before the dawn of 1776.  If I refuse to vote solely on the grounds of “the whole system is rigged and pointless”, then I’m telling my government leaders, my local neighbors, my kids, my family and my friends, “I don’t care about you or anyone.  Just do what you want and leave me alone.”  For the essence of American politics is caring; caring for my family and my neighbor and all of those who make this country a Country: past, present, and future.  Yet, if I resort to the popular “leave me alone” tactic, the more scary thing occurs: they will do what they want, but they certainly won’t leave me alone.  I just perpetuate the bad government I love to criticize.

I also abandon my God.  God is not American nor does he root for any particular flag the way we do.  Yet he does desire and expect us, those of us who want to do good or think we are doing good, to pray for our leaders (check out Romans chapter 13 and 1 Timothy chapter 2 in the Bible for more on this).  I pray for our leaders in the same manner and for the same reason I would pray for myself…I need it!  God help me (and God stop me) when I try to be the chief master and expert of this thing called life.  You want to know the personality traits shared among all the bad and evil people of history (yes even those villains who welded the banner of the Christianity)?  It’s simple.  They thought they held all of the answers in their wee little brains.  They arrogantly thought and declared that they were the answer to all of life’s problems.  Through them, and only them, is salvation found.

American elections remind me of two things.  One, I live in a country in which I have some kind of voice in how my country operates and succeeds (which also means I play a part in how it fails).  Even if it were true, as the cynics declare, that “it’s just one vote, so what difference does it make”, that one vote and the actual difference it does make is WAY better than living in a country where the great intellects and social gurus known as the government shove a gun to my head or steal my property if I even think about thinking of disagreeing with them.

Two, the men and women who are crazy enough to enter the arena of modern politics, in which their personal lives (the true and the lies) are at the mercy of a 24/7 news media and any other person with a blog, need my prayer and support.  The good ones need encouragement to continue and need feedback on what is wise, what works, and what is not working and the bad ones need a similar encouragement to get wise and if possible to get out.  Both of these take a genuine courage that is sadly difficult to learn in this modern age.

“But it’s just one vote and they won’t listen to me anyways”, you say.  I know, it’s a hard lie to abandon and a difficult reality to accept.  But before I quip “Get off your butt and vote”, I’ll leave you with this: when I ran for Colstrip City Council as a relatively unknown write-in with no political experience, I beat a well respected, regularly active, and long time resident by two or three votes.  Two or three people who could have whined that their meager little vote (designed by some of the greatest political minds in world history, by the way) didn’t matter and could have stayed home or ignored the great privilege known as voting day, but they didn’t.  And an unknown, wanna be politician got the humble opportunity to represent his neighbors, family and friends.

Remember, politics is hard and not for the faint of heart, the cynics or the lazy.  It takes guts and courage.  Not everyone needs to be a politician, but everyone needs to ensure the process works; through the good and the bad times.  Now, stop your belly aching, no matter how justified it is, and get off your butt and vote.

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Colstrip Candidate Forum 2014 Update: All Candidates have accepted

Candidate Forum Logo 2014Patricia Rae Peppers (D) of Lame Deer has recently accepted the invitation and plans to attend the 2014 Colstrip Candidate Forum.

All the state legislative candidates filed for election have accepted and plan to attend!

Running for state Senate district 20 are Republicans Duane Ankney of Colstrip (current district 43 House Representative), Barry Usher of Billings and Democrat Rod Mogen of Rosebud.  Running for House district 39 is Democrat Howard Keller of Big Horn and Republican Geri Custer of Forsyth (current County Clerk of Rosebud County).  Running unopposed in House district 41 is Patricia Rae Peppers of Lame Deer (incumbent).

Again, the event is not a debate. All candidates will be on stage together answering a series of questions asked by the moderator.  Each candidate will have one opportunity to answer the question in turn.  The format gives the audience the opportunity to get to know the candidates and find out why they chose to run for elected office.

Come out to the 2014 Colstrip Candidate Forum, hosted by Bicentennial Library at Colstrip High School auditorium, Friday, May 2 starting at 7:00 PM.  It’s only two days away!  I’ll see you there.

Remember, you can join the Event on Facebook.

Colstrip Candidate Forum 2014 Update: 5 of 6 Candidates have accepted

Candidate Forum Logo 2014Rod Mogen (D) of Rosebud has recently accepted the invitation and plans to attend the 2014 Colstrip Candidate Forum.

Mr Ankney, Mr Usher, Mr Keller, Mrs Custer, and Mr Mogen have agreed to participate.  We’re just missing Ms Peppers for a full stage.

Running for state Senate district 20 are Republicans Duane Ankney of Colstrip (current district 43 House Representative), Barry Usher of Billings and Democrat Rod Mogen of Rosebud.  Running for House district 39 is Democrat Howard Keller of Big Horn and Republican Gerri Custer of Forsyth (current County Clerk of Rosebud County).  Running unopposed in House district 41 is Patricia Rae Peppers of Lame Deer (incumbent).

Again, the event is not a debate. All candidates will be on stage together answering a series of questions asked by the moderator.  Each candidate will have one opportunity to answer the question in turn.  The format gives the audience the opportunity to get to know the candidates and find out why they chose to run for elected office.  Get your questions on the final list; submit a question right here at In Colstrip!

Come out to the 2014 Colstrip Candidate Forum, hosted by Bicentennial Library at Colstrip High School auditorium, Friday, May 2 starting at 7:00 PM.  It’s only two weeks away!  I’ll see you there.

Remember, you can join the Event on Facebook.

Submit a Question for the 2014 Colstrip Candidate Forum

Bicentennial Library of Colstrip and the 2014 Colstrip Candidate Forum planning team are accepting questions from the public to ask at the upcoming Colstrip Candidate Forum.

The event, held on May 2, 2014 at the Colstrip High School auditorium, will be a moderated Q&A format.  The moderator will asks questions submitted by local residents of House districts 39 and 41 and Senate district 20.  If you live in Rosebud county, the eastern edge of Big Horn and Yellowstone county, Treasure county or the western part of Powder River county, then ask a question!  Get to know your potential elected representative.  To see who is running and what district you belong to, check out the recent In Colstrip posts: One City, Two Districts and The Local Race for State Congress.

You can submit your questions one of four ways:

  1. in person at Bicentennial Library in Colstrip or Rosebud County Library in Forsyth
  2. On the Bicentennial Library Facebook page
  3. On the Colstrip Candidate Forum Facebook page
  4. or right here at In Colstrip

Just ask your question using the form below.  It’s that simple!

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Speak Up: How, When, & Where

What should you do when you want to share ideas with your city government?  How should you bring a complaint to the ears of the people elected to represent you?

One of the great things about government in Montana is that everything dealing with public money, from official elected government all the way to appointed and temporary committees, everything must be transparent; Montana state law requires it.  All meetings where official business is considered and discussed, with a quorum of the elected or appointed members present, must be open to the public.  This doesn’t mean that the audience is allowed to join the discussion and debate at every point of the meeting, but it does mean that all deliberation must be done in the potential view of a public audience and the audience has the opportunity to speak up and speak out.  The only time a public audience is not allowed or required is when a board will discuss personal matters involving an employee of the organization or active litigation.

Often titled “Public Comment” on the official business agenda, this time looks different depending on what meeting you go to.  Some groups place public comments at the end of the meeting, others at the beginning, others in the middle.  Some boards provide only one scheduled portion of the meeting for the audience to speak while others allow the audience to provide comment during the official discussion and debate of each item on the agenda.  Some groups restrict the public comment time to only items not on the meeting agenda and other groups give unrestricted opportunity for a person to speak about whatever they desire.   Whichever way it’s organized, the same basic allowance must be offered at every meeting; you get a chance to listen, watch, and speak about issues of public interest associated with public funds.

Years ago, the Colstrip City Council meetings were organized to allow public comment to occur right before the old and new business was discussed.  The comment time was open to items on the agenda and items off agenda.  In the last two years, this has slightly changed.  Now the audience is provided a formal time to speak on issues not related to items listed on the meeting agenda and then provided a second opportunity during the Council’s discussion and debate of a business item.

When you attend a council meeting you will receive a printed agenda and be asked to sign a guest book, whether you plan to speak or not.  You will see “Public Comment” listed on the schedule, usually the third or fourth item; just before the old and new business begins.  When the time arrives for Public Comment, the facilitator/chair of the meeting, most often the mayor, will announce something like, “We have now reached the Public Comment time of the meeting.  Any members of the public wishing to speak may do so at this time.”  Pretty simple, right?

Now it’s your turn. To speak, you simply stand up and walk to the podium and microphone in the front center of the room; the order of who speaks is determined on a “first come first serve” basis.  At the podium, take a few seconds to gather your thoughts, then look at the mayor (who will be directly in front of you), state your name, your physical address, and tell the council what’s on your mind. It’s that easy (if you overlook the nervous jitters and dry mouth you may feel; but that’s normal!).

Formal meeting etiquette dictates that you should speak to the whole council instead of just one person.  However, may feel more comfortable speaking to the facilitator of the meeting (i.e. the mayor) instead of speaking to the whole council.  This is helpful if you are nervous; as it provides you with a central focal point.  The formality also helps keep a professional and constructive tone during the meeting (this is really helpful during a tense discussion).  You state your name so that everyone knows who you are and it provides a level of accountability to the discussion.  Although anonymous statements are useful at times, it’s always more helpful for someone to stand by and own their comments.  You state your address to indicate whether you live in Colstrip or are visiting from another location.

The general rule of thumb is that you will get two to three minutes to speak, but this depends more on the size of the audience and the amount of people wishing to speak.  In a less crowded meeting there is usually not a strict time limit.  You are guaranteed at least one chance to speak.  Speaking a second time, however, is a privilege granted by the facilitator or consent of the council members as they choose.  Again, public comment is not designed for debate and rebuttals, but for comments and sharing of ideas.

Don’t worry about getting into an argument with the mayor or a council member.  The formal rule is that the council and mayor will remain quiet while you speak.  Even if you ask a question or make an accusation, don’t be alarmed if no one answers you.  This is the way it is supposed to work.  The public comment time is not for dialogue between you and the elected officials, but rather a time for the elected officials to hear you.  Usually, if you ask a question, the mayor will provide a short answer or advise you of a better time to meet with an official to receive more details.  This is extremely important because it can get ugly quickly if everyone started debating and arguing.  The goal is to provide you a time to speak with little fear or concern of rebuke, correction, or challenge.

After the formal public comment time ends, the council will move into the old and new business.  When the council enters discussion and debate of a business item, the mayor will provide more opportunity for the audience to participate and ask questions or make statements.  However, even though the council members will debate and argue over an issue, the audience is not permitted to join the debate or argument.  A person in the audience is allowed to make a statement either for or against the item and to ask questions which may or may not receive a direct answer.  The council members are not supposed to start an argument with you.  This is a time for you to persuade or convince the council to your perspective on the issue, but not argue with them.

Are you ready to speak up and speak out?  Let me know if you have any questions or ideas to add.

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