Civic engagement lands on endangered species list

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What Chet said.

We’re referring to a comment from Coeur d’Alene resident Chet Gaede, who was disappointed in the poor turnout for an important community workshop earlier this week.

“I think it’s sad there’s no turnout for this,” he said during a public brainstorming session on the future of a health care corridor. “People are going to the internet for their news. They’re going [online] to read national news, but they don’t take the time to read their local news. How are you supposed to know what’s going on in your community if you don’t read the local news?”

While Chet is right on about some people’s disconnect to local news, there’s more to this story — and like so many other things, a lot depends upon your perspective.

People tend to get involved only in the things they’re most passionate about. In this age of instant delivery of unlimited entertainment, most calls for civic engagement go unanswered. The exceptions, of course, occur when somebody lights your fire or steps on your toes. The mightily successful Gonzaga basketball team can’t print enough tickets to satisfy all its regional fans. Your local school board probably couldn’t attract a crowd if they were giving away free pizza. (Add free beer and you’ll be turning folks away, however.)

So how do you interpret the small crowds over the health care corridor meetings?

• The optimist might say that because the community has so much faith in city government, the urban renewal agency that would help bring a health care corridor to fruition, and maybe even Kootenai Health, folks are confident that wise decisions will be made by those in charge. The average citizen’s opinion, therefore, is probably superfluous.

• The realist could conclude that most people who care about a future health care corridor may have seen the local stories but believe that as citizens, they don’t have much to offer — and their curiosity isn’t exactly overflowing to the point that they’ll get out and explore whatever the experts are cooking up.

• The pessimist thinks most people don’t understand urban renewal and tax-increment financing (and don’t care); don’t think it’s an important issue because they don’t see the problem; and then there’s the probability that John and Jane Citizen are perfectly content in their cluelessness.

Until most people need something, whether it’s a plumber to fix the spewing spigot or a doctor to deliver their bundle of joy, that something might as well not even exist. But when they need the plumber or doc, those same people will scream bloody murder if they’re either not available or not to their liking.

Which brings us back to the beginning. As a responsible citizen you should know what’s happening in your community. And if you opt not to participate or communicate? Then you forfeit any right to complain later.

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