Thursday, June 18, 2009

What's the best mix for Longmeadow?

In my opinion, our present situation, in which we behave as individualistic citizens within a form of government designed for communal notions of citizenship, is contributing to ugly local politics and public cynicism. If consistency between form and function is too unrealistic, maybe efforts to transform our town's politics from our present inconsistency to another less destructive one would be more realistic.

Maybe we'd be better off with a form of government designed to provide "public services" in an efficient and professional manner that is consistent with our dominant behavioral assumptions (i.e. that taxpayers should get a fair deal), and a renewed townwide commitment to encouraging citizens to see the town as a family and to be active family members who put the interests of the town family on at least the same plane as the interests of their nuclear family.

I think behaving like communitarians (each citizen considers himself a legitimate policy maker whether or not elected to office) in an individualistic system (professionalized municipal government) may be more productive than the reverse, which is our present condition.

One of the reasons my family left Springfield to come to Longmeadow was that the imposition of the Finance Control Board exacerbated and further legitimized an individualistic-consumer mentality among citizens, reducing community membership to a financial arrangement in which residents come and stay because the city provides a "good deal," and reducing political activism to competitive special interest advocacy. The destructive flip side of this approach is that residents, like consumers, have less incentive to maintain civic (read brand) loyalty when times get tough. Rather, the "rational thing to do" is find a better deal elsewhere. Those who stay, on the other hand, are drawn into a political competition for resources, rather than a deliberative democratic debate about the public interest.

The Duquettes came to Longmeadow because of the schools and because of the opportunity to live in, and even help shape, a community held together by a shared identity and spirit. The opportunity remains, but it requires a renewed commitment by our community's leaders to be more fully realized.

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