Who’s in charge here?: Democracy inaction
It was an interesting day for democracy in Dayton and across the country last Wednesday, April 17. A day of decisions and non-decisions that tell a tale of democratic systems and how they work or not.
In the United States Senate, by a vote of 54-45, a bill that would require background checks for gun purchases at gun shows and on the Internet was defeated. As in 54 senators wanted more background checks and 46 did not. The majority lost. So did a majority of Americans who showed in in the latest Washington Post/ ABC News poll an 86-17 percent preference for background checks at gun shows.
Of course, Senate rules are the culprit here, where the Senate has sabotaged democracy by giving any one senator the ability to call for a filibuster, thus disqualifying the majority unless it reaches 60 votes or more. Although the National Rifle Association (NRA) is credited with the defeat, it was not the NRA, but the Senate itself which made the rule that allows a majority to be defeated by a minority.
In Dayton, this publication made a noble run at the Dayton Metro Library Board of Trustees, trying to convince them that the Arcade should be considered as a possible location for the new downtown library. After a good speech by our publisher, Paul Noah, providing a road map that would allow the board a chance to test the viability of the idea with hard facts, crickets could be heard. No motion was made to look at the Arcade or other potential sites which were all ignored in favor of presumptions and faulty representations about building possibilities, tax credits and their limitations.
The board is made up of some prominent and good people who sincerely believe they have made the best decision possible. None were elected. None have the need to be responsive to voters now who gave them $187 million to improve our library system with very few voters knowing that the board had never considered, in a serious way, the Arcade or other potential structures. They were appointed and their volunteer positions are safe. They have your money now, you have no other voice. Walk away. Nothing to see here.
The city manager of the City of Dayton, on that same day, made this announcement:
“I do not intend to move forward with bringing the Persistent Surveillance Systems contract before the City Commission for consideration. In our meetings around the community, we heard viewpoints and opinions from all sides. While we believe there are real potential benefits to the strategic application of this technology, we heard enough confusion over how it would be applied to concern us. The City of Dayton has placed a priority on using technology to enhance operations and control costs across our organization. I commend Police Chief Richard Biehl and Assistant City Manager Shelley Dickstein for their efforts in bringing this technology application forward because of their concern for community safety and job creation. Going forward, we will continue to pursue technology investments whenever practical. One thing is clear: technology advancements will continue to offer opportunities in the years ahead in terms of services, safety and job creation. We will be poised to take advantage of those opportunities.”
Although I would vote against the measure myself, if I had a vote, there will be no vote. The unelected city manager said so. Of course, if there were a vote, the measure would likely not get the three votes needed for passage. Two of the commissioners and the mayor are on the ballot for May 7 and may not wish to take a stand on this issue that has angered many citizens. So, perhaps, the majority ruled here. We won’t know until after the election when it can safely be returned to the commission agenda. Reportedly, Commissioner Williams wants it considered at another time, as does Commissioner Joseph. Just not now. Too much democracy.
The same is true for the elimination of Priority Boards. It was scheduled to be considered by early spring, but the city administration hasn’t brought the issue forward after receiving much backlash. It would be good if the issue died, but it isn’t dead. It is also awaiting May 7 or Nov. 6. Democracy might get in the way if we had a vote now and those on the ballot were forced to vote the will of the people. Better to wait until after the election so that the Priority Boards can be dismissed with minimal fuss and far from the next election so that it can be forgotten.
We must respect our laws by whatever process we get them. But if we think that all laws are a product of true democracy, we are fooling ourselves.
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A.J. Wagner is an attorney with the law firm of Flanagan, Lieberman, Hoffman and Swaim at 15 W. Fourth Street in Dayton. A.J. and his firm would be glad to help you with all of your legal needs. You can reach A.J. at (937) 223-5200 or at AJWagner@DaytonCityPaper.com.