Our Opinion: What you can do at the local level

News Tribune editorial

What can you do to change government?

That is the question posed by Ann McFeatters in her “White House Watch” column.

Her focus is on Congress and her suggestions are valid. She writes: “We can volunteer to work for members of Congress who share our values and priorities. We can put signs in our yards. We can write letters to the editor, thoughtfully and logically spelling out our positions.”

Our focus is on local governments.

Although we may be unable to attend congressional hearings in Washington, D.C., we can more easily make our voices heard at meetings of the Jefferson City Council, Cole County Commission or a local board of education.

And we Central Missourians enjoy the added benefit of close proximity to the Capitol, where Missouri lawmakers hold hearings, discuss proposals and act on legislation.

Sometimes, elected officials host meetings or coffee groups to hear constituent concerns.

Recently, Jefferson City’s two 5th Ward councilmen held a community meeting attended by more than double the anticipated turnout.

Much of the discussion focused on public transit, and 5th Ward Councilman Ralph Bray told the group: “I believe I can speak for the City Council — we and the staff are going to look at Jefftran (the city’s transit operation), inside and out.”

Bray’s confidence in speaking on behalf of the council may have been prompted by a past council meeting, when a large turnout by public transit users likely influenced rejection of proposed transit cuts.

Despite the temptation to become jaded, each person’s opinion, influence and vote does matter.

At federal and state levels, people may join interest groups — AARP, NRA, TEA Party, etc. — to magnify their influence.

At the local level, however, like-minded people often gather spontaneously to influence a proposed zoning change, budget cut or alteration in public sevices.

The important thing, as the columnist points out, is that “we have to care.”

And, beyond that, we have to act.

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