(1/22/08) Suppose you operate a soup kitchen. Suppose your supplies are running low and endangering your ability to feed those who depend on your services. Suppose you were to try to make people aware of this plight and its terrible implications so that they might contribute the money and supplies necessary for you to provide this valuable program to the community. Would it be wrong for you to do that?
Of course not.
If people are aware of a need and its consequences, and if they agree that filling that need is something they value, they are likely to want to help. If they are unaware of the need or its consequences, there is little likelihood of their contributing.
Should people be offended that you, as the operator of the soup kitchen, are advocating for contributions? Would they think that you are abusing your position or overstepping your authority?
Of course not.
How else could people know about the needs of your program if you, the expert, don’t make them aware? The general public can’t be expected to be as knowledgeable about the program as you are – you know its ins and outs and all its complicated details, so informing people about what you need in order to keep the program running is your responsibility. People are relying on you to provide that information; to not do so would be a dereliction of your duty.
This example is meant to illustrate the misguided criticism being directed at the Budget Coordinating Group (BCG) as it wrestles with how to make the public aware of the Town’ fiscal crisis and its effects on programs and services, and how to gauge the public’s willingness to pay for that which it values. Select Board member Hwei-Ling Greeney has been particularly outspoken in her concerns that the BCG is trying to “sell” an override, and is overstepping its authority. But if we can’t expect the BCG – made up of representatives from the Select Board, the School Committee, the Library Trustees, and the Finance Committee, as well as Town, School and Library staff – to be the body that best understands the combined fiscal needs of the Town budget and its implications, and to recommend a course of action, and to then advocate strongly for it – then really, what is the point?
An editorial on the topic in the January 22nd Gazette says groups like the BCG should “stick to the facts, present the information in an impartial manner, and then let voters decide.” In other words, the leaders shouldn’t lead. Of course the voters should decide, but if they can’t rely on the informed recommendations of those elected and appointed to provide guidance and leadership to the community, again, what is the point?
-- Stephanie O’Keeffe