Should county officials attend local meetings?

ACHTUNG: This is not a “fair and balanced” article. It is an editorial by the editor.

Woody Allen

“Eighty percent of life is just showing up.” —‘ Comedian and film maker Woody Allen

I spent some time last Wednesday evening telling the Martin Township Board about how disappointed I was in Allegan County Commissioner Rick Cain for his streak of no-shows at township meetings since February. This came when news of redistricting and reduction of commission districts from seven to five, which would make Cain no longer a representative of Martin Township Allegan.

I’m still disappointed, but I need to take a step back and examine the practice of officials at higher levels dropping in on municipalities’ meetings. Some, like Mark DeYoung, don’t attend at all at Wayland City Council and the township boards of Leighton and Dorr.

State representatives have a nasty habit of appearing at such meetings only when it is advantageous politically, like during presentation of a plaque or announcement of something that makes them look good.

From where I sit, DeYoung is as solid a county commissioner as anybody in terms of use of critical thinking and setting policy.

Gale Dugan
Mark DeYoung

Yet there have been county commissioners who have attended local board and council meetings religiously. Don Black made a point of it to show up almost all of the time at Wayland and Martin Township board meetings and Commissioner Gale Dugan is a regular at Watson, Hopkins and now even Martin Township meetings in the recent absence of Cain.

There could be a solid debate about whether or not is desirable for county commissioners to attend board and council meetings in their districts. Some argue it’s necessary to keep local officials up to date about what’s happening in their county.

Indeed, there have been times I’ve been able to write stories based only on what county commissioners reported. And the fewer the number of people in the audience, the more city, township and school officials can conduct the public’s business without accountability.

Don Black
Rick Cain

I heard a rumor not long ago that DeYoung avoids Dorr Township because they too often are circuses. But that doesn’t explain Wayland City Council and Leighton Township Board, though the latter’s most recent meeting descended into four different groups taking amongst themselves at the same time to make the proceedings chaotic.

Once again, is it necessary for county commissioners to go to local meetings? It’s not. But a voice inside my head tells me the less local boards communicate with each other, the worse the quality of local government, which these days is free of scrutiny from the local community journalism, which if not dead is on life support.

So the downside is government officials doing as they wish without any accountability. It’s a growing problem — even in Allegan County.

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