I moved to Clearcreek Township with my wife and daughter in the winter of 2008 in order to be closer to the Cincinnati job market. We lived in a small house on my wife’s grandfather’s farm so that she could help take care of him in his later years, while my daughter enrolled to attend Springboro Schools the following year. I didn’t have much interest in local politics until the 2010 election when I started noticing Tea Party symbols appearing on all the yard signs.
Much of what I was reading appeared to demonize the government on all levels, but living property tax-free on grandpa’s farm left me feeling like an outsider without any skin in the game. We decided to move into the city of Springboro to not only earn the right to vote, but to experience first-hand how local government works in a small town. That same year, Kelly Kohls started touring on the FreedomWorks circuit, building the foundation for the Ohio School Board Legislative Council, and our small town lives started looking less like Springboro and more like the conversation on the national stage.
In subsequent years the situation seems to have gotten worse, once again reflecting the sharp divide our country is experiencing between rural and urban areas as the residents of Clearcreek Township grow increasingly weary of outsiders such as myself raising taxes to support local schools and services. You can only imagine the joy I experienced after reading Lori Kersher’s first priority to cut costs by sharing services between the city and the township. It was like witnessing the rift in our community being sealed with a solution that equally serves both sides of the divide.
Like many of you I suffer from a condition known as interested-in-politics-itis. Over the years, my condition has made it increasingly more difficult to talk with friends and family, as the aptly-named elephant in the room looms over every movie critique and choice of beverage. It has reached the point where interacting with my neighbors is a brief affair out of fear they might perceive me to be a member of the opposing team.
As the name of this blog implies, I have sought to remedy my situation by focusing on open government. This has not been an easy solution as its visionary ideals fail to resonate with those of us living in the Age of Networked Information. We don’t think about our Government in terms of information and networks, but as a competition between two warring factions which generally fail to represent our own personal interests.
When I first learned of Lori Kershner and her campaign for Ward 1 of the Springboro City Council, I must admit that I looked at her through the lens of competition and perceived her to be slightly right of center. But after reading her views “On the Issues,” I saw something that I haven’t seen in any other election. Not a fight between who’s wrong and who’s right, but a strategic plan of action which focuses on cooperation and community building.
The latest release on the front page of TED is a talk by Benjamin Barber: Why mayors should rule the world. He describes an all-too familiar world without borders, of corporations without borders, of terrorism without borders, of doctors without borders, and shows how the modern nation state is failing to represent its constituents as our interdependencies become increasingly more global.
The solution, according to Mr. Barber, is to build a global network of mayors in order to connect a world without borders, starting from the ground up. Apart from the fact that many cities around the world are currently working together to solve environmental, economic, and security issues, organizations such as United Cities and Local Governments are working to support democratic local self-governance within the wider international community.
At first I was overjoyed to find a solution to the central issues of both the Occupy Movement and the Tea Party, by usurping the authority of both mega corporations and mega governments with a hyper local solution whose power rests in the hands of the people. It wasn’t until I read the reviews that I remembered the political challenges to such a solution, being that the vast majority of us are divided along political lines such that local issues can hardly compete for our attention.
For the last two years, members of OneDayton have met privately to discuss plans for restructuring the Government of Montgomery County ranging from doing nothing with a perfect system to unifying the county under a strong single charter. Recently it’s members, which include an illustrious list of mayors, judges, and commissioners, have decided to open the debate in order to gather additional feedback from the respective communities before recommending an issue be placed on the ballot for voters to decide.
Each of the proposals offer an increasing amount of consolidation of local services with the ultimate goal of saving taxpayers money and providing for a more unified vision of the county. Critics charge that the initiative is simply a numbers game to boost the rank of Dayton to the second largest metropolitan area in Ohio, but Montgomery County Commission President Dan Foley believes this would give Dayton “more influence, more visibility, and more opportunities for economic growth.”
While the prospect of restructuring local government could be an exciting opportunity for residents of Montgomery County, the focus on consolidating services in response to a shrinking economy sounds more like a business solution than a new form of government. This is not to say that consolidation is without merit, but to highlight the missing components that factor into a thriving metropolitan area, including infrastructure, manufacturing, small business, and workers, along with the necessary skills and investments in new and emerging markets.
For the last three weeks, thousands of school teachers and Union supporters have been camping out in Mexico City’s Zocalo Square protesting American style reforms to their educational system, including attacks on their collective bargaining rights and the institution of merit-based performance systems. Over the last several days the situation has escalated as the government cracks down on the encampments with tear gas and water jets, while the protesters use bulldozers to erect barricades around their encampments.
The situation bears little resemblance to the recent controversy in Springboro Schools as our teachers lost the battle for their collective rights, but continue to fight the war with the combined force of Malone, Stuckey, and Anderson, three well-known heavyweight contenders in the school district who have joined forces under the banner of MSA4Springboro, in order to combat the influence of the Warren County Tea Party and their leadership on the Board of Education.
Half a world away, another encampment has already started to form at a new Information Technology school in Paris known as 42, named after Douglas Adams’s answer to “life, the universe, and everything” in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Created by a French telecom magnate for reasons that mirror those in Mexico and the U.S., the goal is to prepare students for a career in the 21st century and help offset the rising rate of unemployment which is impacting the French economy.
Tonight’s Board of Education meeting at Springboro High was headlined by a well-published local author, Dr. Schweickart, who teaches history at the University of Dayton. As a self-described Conservative historian, his primary goal was to illustrate the anti-American bias within American history textbooks, and showed a number of examples on the overhead projector to illustrate his point, beginning with the White man’s efforts to repopulate the buffalo, and ending with a rather lengthy defense of the economic impacts of the Reagan years.
While I was initially excited to hear another point of view in the education debate, I arrived somewhat frustrated when I discovered that I left my video phone at home. When I made my way into the room, it was obvious that everyone else was equally as frustrated for different reasons. One local resident questioned the Board’s decision to invite non-residents to deliver a politically biased perspective at a public education meeting, to which Dr. Kohl’s defended their decision with her desire to ensure that students have access to a complete education and not simply learn one side of history.
After the presentation, Mr. Rigano took the opportunity to ask a few questions in order to continue the search for truth in our history books. Dr. Schweickart took to the podium in order to answer, and seemed to jump off the rails when he opened the floor for additional questions. A few people jumped at the chance, including a local resident and colleague of Dr. Schweickart who asked about the relevance of gender and ethnic perspectives from his particular point of view. He responded by simply saying that as a Conservative historian, he didn’t recognize the value of these interpretations.