2011-03-17 / Viewpoint

The VIEW from here

Quantum mechanics and local government


Nancy R. Elliott — Staff Writer Nancy R. Elliott — Staff Writer We owe physicist Werner Heisenberg for his uncertainty principle. Okay, we’re talking subatomic particles, position and momentum, nevertheless, I assert that Heisenberg was on to something about government as well.

Author David Lindley boils Heisenberg’s lofty thought down to this colloquial translation: “The act of observing changes the thing observed.”

I can tell you from my own rather unscientific observations, the theorem bears out in government, and it’s exactly what makes newspapers essential to freedoms.

The mere fact of our alert attention focused squarely on our government officials, their behavior and their decision-making, affects the outcome.

I have seen it firsthand. Sometimes it is a decision in process that finds a new path after it gets into print and readers respond. I have been witness to the morphing of a local government board when suddenly a handful of residents shows up. Or even one resident.

In Hadley Township, a good showing of residents faithfully turns out every month. The residents arrive with no particular ax to grind, they’re just interested, and they know their input is valued. The board even makes coffee and offers cookies or cupcakes. It is a setting of mutual respect.

Once the Pledge of Allegiance is recited, the board gets down to business. They’re careful to abide by Robert’s Rules, but they comfortably accommodate discourse. Supervisor Ernie Monroe has numerous times made it clear he’s interested in what the public may have to say on a topic.

And when public time rolls around, the public speaks up.

Residents chime in on the matters at hand, they ask questions about roads or expenses, they give kudos, they drive discussion on township concerns. They matter to the process.

We are all busy people with jobs and family and commitments that demand the hours of our days. It’s hard to squeeze in another meeting after wolfing down dinner or find time to write a letter to the editor. But, oh, how important it is.

It may not look that way at first, but truly, our government officials need us. They are, after all, our neighbors. They want to do a good job. By watching them at work, we make them more cognizant of the weight of their decision-making, even if we don’t say a word. We visibly hold them accountable. And we can take the opportunity as well to make them aware of what matters to us.

Democracy only works with the active engagement of the citizens.

Lucky for me, part of my job is watching local government at work. I admit it, that’s my thing. I like seeing what government is up to, and I consider it a privilege to equip citizens with information about it. But it’s always more fun with company.

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