Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Participatory Democracy

As I mentioned in a recent blog, the Worcester city council has been talking about reclassifying apartment buildings as commercial property.  So, last night I went to a Worcester City Council meeting.

It seems that unlike many municipalities, Worcester has different property tax rates for residential and  commercial property.  The commercial rate is much higher (probably because commercial property owners tend to have larger properties, and many don't live or vote in town).  My landlord was understandably upset about this proposal.  He said his tax bill would double if it passed.  So he encouraged everyone in my building to attend the meeting and speak out at the public hearing portion of the agenda.

I served an 8-year sentence of attending town meetings -- it was called being a newspaper reporter.  I wasn't too excited about attending one last night.  Plus, a lot of older people live in my complex and they love to go to city council meetings.  Then I thought, if it passes, my landlord will pass the tax increase onto me in the form of rent.  Not good.  Besides, there wasn't much on TV last night -- Skating With the Stars, and Louisville and Southern Miss playing in the Chunks 'o Beef Salmonella Bowl. 

It dawned on me that it might be in my best interest to attend.  So I trudged out to Worcester City Hall. 

I was the only person in my complex to attend.

Now the pressure was on.  I got on the list to speak publicly.  My big mistake was not writing down what I wanted to say beforehand.  Still, I thought I sounded relatively articulate.  A couple of city councilors came up to me afterward and introduced themselves to me.  My landlord, who also attended, loved me.  A couple of other landlords who attended also thanked me for showing up.

It turns out the proposal was not up for a vote (some of the councilors do seem to support it, but apparently the city needs some sort of approval for the state in order to make this change).  So I didn't even need to attend.

But I'm glad I did.  Too often we shirk our responsibility of being a citizen because we'd rather watch TV or surf the 'Net.  And that sort of apathy is what allows selectmen and city councilors to think they can get away with raising taxes or misusing their position for their own gain. (I say this as a generalization of politicians everywhere, not as an accusation of any of the Worcester city officials, who seemed pretty accountable and happy for the public input.)  I spent 2 1/2 hours at City Hall, but I killed the time by reading 40 pages of Jasper Fforde's Shades of Grey while I was waiting for my turn to speak.

And let's face it, going to a town meeting to speak your mind is the essence of being a New Englander.


  1. I applaud you for attending a meeting as a citizen. I haven't done that yet. The very thought of sitting in a municipal meeting still makes my pen hand twitch.

  2. good job phil. quite proud of you.