My first reaction to the proposal of township consolidation was one of approval. It seems like township designations are a holdover from the days when communications had to be sent on foot or horseback. I thought they were largely irrelevant to modern society.
But the more I thought about it, I realized my objections were based on the perception that whatever work is done at the township level was (or could be) duplicated at a city, county, or state level. Why have overlap and redundancy when there could be streamlined efficiency?
That’s when I thought that keeping townships, and in fact keeping as much government as possible on a local level, could help reduce bureaucracy. It could also help improve the image of government and increase trust within the population, while getting more work accomplished.
How and why would this be the case? For one, if those who govern are immersed in the communities they serve then there is more accountability. If you are a lawmaker and you are aware that your constituents know you and encounter you on a regular basis would, I hope, keep you from wasting public time and money.
Transparency is related to this. It’s a whole lot easier, and perhaps more tempting, to be dishonest (or even just inefficient) when you are removed from those you represent. The distance could be a physical separation or a barrier of communication, in the form of layers of gatekeepers guarding access.
If citizens are able to speak directly with policymakers, and feel that they are being heard, then this will go a long way to relieving dissatisfaction with laws, policies, and ordinances. This could be in the form of open door policies for office holders, meetings that are open to the public, or discussion meetings where individuals can go to share their views.
The flip side to this is that the local lawmakers need to have the authority to make changes. I would be very frustrated if I were to voice an opinion to my local representatives, only to be told that the decision rests with those higher up on the governmental pyramid. The obvious question would be, Why can’t that be taken care of here?
Another reason to keep as much control as possible on a local level is that those in positions of authority know their people. They are aware of the challenges the community faces, as well as what has been tried in the past—both what works and what doesn’t. They know the strengths and assets of their citizens.
To expect governors without that knowledge base to made decisions of impact is a recipe for bureaucracy, red tape, and inefficiency. There is a good chance that proposed changes might not end up bettering the local community, no matter how well intended. Lawmakers simply must be in touch with those that their decisions affect.
Government needs to have a face, and it needs to be one that we know and have access to. As much authority as possible needs to be held at the ground level of the lawmaking pyramid—townships, cities, and counties. States should have autonomy so as to not have to rely on federal government any more than absolutely necessary.
If we are the people then we need to demand contact with, and efficiency from, our lawmakers. We can’t have a voice with those we’ve never met. If we expect our representatives to work for us then we must do our own part, not succumbing to apathy or helplessness. We can be one community, held together—with accountability and transparency for all.