By ROD ROGERS
The 10 key values of the Green Party, of which I am a member, include statements supporting grassroots democracy (participatory democracy), community-based economics (enhanced quality of life by local community involvement in economic development planning), and decentralization (decision making should be as much as possible at the individual and local level).
Environmentalists have come to the conclusion that "Most of the individual behaviors and attitudes that support sustainability are best nurtured at the community level. The political structure and process necessary for a regionally, nationally and globally sustainable society must be built on a foundation of local communities."
The Green slogan of "Think Globally, Act Locally" is the basic relevant consideration. A recent survey of young adults found that "Two-thirds believe 'the best way to make a difference is to get involved in your local community, because that is where you can best solve the problems that are really affecting people.' "
The primary consideration is the desire to maintain a sense of community. What is a community? A community can be defined as a group of people that have common interests, or a group of people residing in the same locality and under the same government. Any effort at local government restructuring should have as its basic purpose the strengthening of our communities economically, environmentally, and socially in an attempt to bring work, home, school, and community facilities closer together.
As highlighted in the New York State Rural Visions Project, a collaborative effort between the state Legislative Commission on Rural Resources and various departments of Cornell University, "rural schools have strong community support, and occupy an integral position as 'centers of the community.' " Ongoing related efforts have emphasized the "conviction that community and economic development are mutually interrelated at the local and regional levels." Once we have identified our true communities, the issue becomes determining the services those communities need and the appropriate governmental unit for providing those services.
Therefore, let us work to identify the communities that the people of the county identify with and determine how to strengthen them and their associations with the surrounding communities and the county as a whole.
One of the goals of the Chautauqua Comprehensive Plan is "for Chautauqua County to be a model in New York state for counties, municipalities, and other government entities, educational institutions, and non-profit agencies, in providing cost-effective services and infrastructure through regionalization, the sharing of resources, collaboration, and the elimination of duplication."
The structure of local government in Chautauqua County was created more than 150 years ago. There were no computers, Internet, even telephones. Transportation was by horse, or horse and buggy. Therefore, centers of government were planned with those limitations in mind. This obviously required centers within a reasonable travel distance based on the travel methods available at the time. That is no longer the situation. Travel methods have changed and even communication methods are different today and continue to change.
So let's look at the real role of local government. We can go back to the comments of Thomas Jefferson on local government when he stated to Samuel Kercheval in a letter dated June 12, 1816 that the basic role is justice, care for the needy, education, public roads and direct citizen involvement in the government.
Since that time, we have added other basics such as water, sewer and other service functions, especially in higher populated areas. There are also considerations for larger regional needs such as those that affect regional issues such as lake pollution thus creating the need for regional watershed planning.
The objective then becomes identifying our true communities and the appropriate structure of local government to provide the services needed. Not necessarily a government for a geographical area drawn on a map over 150 years ago, but a government for those true communities that exist today.
A basic principle in business, when dealing with a problem, is to clearly identify the problem, develop a plan to correct the problem, implement that plan, monitor the results, and adjust if necessary. In this case, we have identified a problem: an antiquated structure of government that is causing excessive costs and a non-competitive economic climate.
To develop a plan, it is necessary to form a group of capable people and collect and analyze as much applicable information as possible. This group can then prepare a specific plan with implementation procedures and an evaluation system.
In the case of local government, actual implementation of any plan for change is dependent on the voters.
We live in a 'home rule" state thus preventing forced change. But if change is made, we will want to be able to evaluate the results. Do we have stronger financial, environmental and social communities? And do we have a stronger county as a result of having stronger communities?
Obviously this should be an ongoing process where we repeat as conditions change. A robust system for changing the jurisdictional lines of local government as circumstances change is necessary. Not to change the basic system or structure, but to adjust to changes as our real communities change.
Therefore, as we talk about local government changes over the next weeks and months, let's consider what our true communities are, not some geographic area created by some lines drawn on a map over 150 years ago. And keep in mind the advances in technology over that time period and how those advances can have an impact on how services are provided and how we as individuals can participate as active members of our communities.
Rod Rogers, a Forestville resident, is county legislator for District 5.