by Paul Chevalier
There is much debate in Sedona over the correct political role for City Council members. The question comes down to whether Council members should follow their own will in making decisions on all community matters that come before them, or be duty-bound to seek out and follow the will of the majority of people they represent on major community issues.
Those who argue that “once elected,” a Council member should follow his/her own will cite some of our country’s founding fathers for support. Let’s take a hard look at that argument.
There is no question that many founding fathers, including Madison and Hamilton, did not trust the majority of the then-living citizens of the 13 states to make political decisions. In the late 1700s, when the US Constitution was first written, most Americans could not read, and, even for those that could, communications were slow and sloppy.
Under these conditions, the miracle of our first Constitution is that it went as far as it did in embracing democracy. Along with the Declaration of Independence, our Constitution created that most democratic shift in government that has ever occurred in all of history. And yet, it still left political democracy as a work in progress.
In the 200+ years since we adopted our Constitution, Americans have made sweeping advances in political democracy. Our original Constitution only gave freemen the right to vote and, at the national level, those free men could elect politicians to the US House of Representatives. The Constitution did not give free men the right to vote for US Senators or for the President or Vice President. The former were chosen by each state legislature and the latter by an electoral college, composed of politicians selected by each state legislature.
In time, the laws were liberalized and free men were given the right to elect their own US Senators, and the President and Vice President (albeit state by state).
When slavery was finally abolished, all men were freed and therefore had the right to vote. Two generations later, women were finally given the right to vote. In the individual states, the same democratic progression occurred alongside the federal. Both houses of state legislatures and all state governors are now also elected by the people. The fact that legislators and Presidents now have to be elected to office by the public they serve has made career politicians more responsive and receptive to following the will of the people on major issues.
The fly in this ointment is that lobbyists and the corporations that employ them
“buy” politicians votes with campaign contributions. So having the right to vote, as it has turned out, does not guarantee that politicians will follow the will of the people.
To remedy this, in the latter half of the 20th century, citizens began using an “initiative” process at the state level to enact legislation that they felt was necessary to protect them. Today, 26 states allow private citizens to propose laws to be voted upon by the public through the Initiative process. Unfortunately, corporations also use the Initiative process to create laws that favor them.
Democracy in American government continues to increase never mind the roadblocks. Today, Americans are far better educated than people who lived in the United States at the time of the American Revolution. Even more important, today we live in an age of cyber communication where it is possible to inform and to find out our citizen’s opinions quickly. Our citizens are demanding more democracy and finding ways to move forward, although sometimes we have to take two steps forward and then one back.
With a better educated America and practical instant two-way cyber communication, there is no longer a fundamental excuse for politicians not adhering to the principles of the American Creed, which was formally adopted by the US House of Representatives in April, 1918. Our Creed begins;
“ I believe in the United States of America, a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed, a democracy in a republic…”
And just how far should a democracy in a republic go? The answer to that question is it should go as far as we the people will support it.
US citizens who live in places like Sedona today are demanding social participation like never before. For a government to provide us a reasonable equality of social participation it must acknowledge that it requires our consent before deciding major issues for us.
The fact is that this method of treating human beings is more successful than any other in evoking a maximum of creative, voluntary effort from all members of a community. It gives all persons a stake in their community and elicits a maximum of intelligent loyalty from its citizens. This kind of behavior has a name, it is called “ethical democracy.”
When a community practices ethical democracy, it won’t stop all problems from occurring, but it will make it more likely that different opinions and solutions will be viewed objectively and a better solution to each problem will be enacted.
It is time to move away from politicians who focus on getting their own way. That way of political thinking and acting is systematically insensitive to the personal needs of its citizens and excludes them from policy-making discussions. Politicians who act out the fateful dogma that they know the true interests of their constituents better than we know ourselves are fools. And that brings us to a discussion of our current City Council.
There has been little ethical democracy ever practiced by the current Sedona City Council majority. Our current Council majority continues to ignore the will of the people with regard to continuous lighting on Highway 89A.
Members of the current majority of the Council acted fiscally irresponsibly when they added a mind-boggling $10 million dollars to our city debt to sewer the Chapel area. This was a colossal economic mistake that the people of Sedona would never have supported had they been asked their opinion.
The current majority of the Council has shown no interest in confirming and following the will of the people on the subject of the National Scenic area, a subject deemed by the people to be important to protecting the environment and the future of Sedona.
Both Mayor Adams and Vice-Mayor Hamilton have refused to go along with the current Council majority on all of these issues. Only Adams and Hamilton have shown themselves to be supporters of ethical democracy.
In the current election for City Council there are five candidates for Council -namely Mayor Rob Adams, Dennis Rayner, Barbara Litrell, Dan Mcilroy and Mike Ward, who have committed themselves to informing, listening to and following the will of the majority of Sedona’s residents on all major issues, even if they personally disagree.
This is what ethical democracy requires. No other candidates for the Council have committed themselves to doing this.
Together, let’s move Sedona’s government forward by electing candidates to our next City Council who will make ethical democracy the linchpin of Sedona’s future government. It is 2010 and is time that we have a government in Sedona that respects its citizens.
If you haven’t voted, you have until March 9th. Please add your voice and vote for the candidates who support ethical democracy.