DON'T WAIT FOR a warmly worded invitation to appear in your mailbox that asks you to attend future meetings of your local government. None is forthcoming. None should be needed.
It's up to you to recognize that school boards, local governments and Luzerne County Council – all of which crank out decisions affecting your life, and frequently involving hefty amounts of your tax dollars – should not operate in a vacuum but rather under the careful watch of people like you: the governed.
Frank Sorick understands that.
So do area residents and meeting-goers such as Ed Chesnovitch and Mike Giamber.
Brian Shiner really, really gets it. The Kingston man faithfully attends sessions of the county council as well as its committees, taking meticulous notes and occasionally posing questions. Even though we have a representative form of government, he recently told a Times Leader reporter, it doesn't excuse us from staying involved and keeping an eye on what our representatives do.
Preach, Mr. Shiner. Preach!
Luzerne County, exposed in recent years as a breeding ground of public corruption, needs lots of converts to this philosophy. It needs citizen watchdogs, willing to see democracy not strictly as a form of government that tolerates free speech and elections, but rather a forum in which you and other residents have an obligation to participate in ways that go well beyond voting once or twice a year.
Learn when and where school boards, councils and supervisors meet. Be in the room. Get acquainted with the issues. Ask questions, respectfully. Speak up, routinely.
Elected officials are only human; just as some of them can be swayed to participate in funny business, using public office for personal benefit or allowing friendships to trump leadership, most of them are likely to stick to the high road when they know their actions are being closely monitored and a misstep risks humiliation. A meeting room without watchdogs invites trouble. But seats filled with sensible, vigilant citizens – that's like an inoculation against official misbehavior.
Indeed, one person, or a handful of folks, can make a difference. Sorick, for instance, heads a taxpayer association that identified several expenses in Wilkes-Barre's recently proposed, $45.8 million budget that it deems unnecessary. Other taxpayers have in recent years exposed problems within city government or provided tips to area news media, resulting in changes to policies and – perhaps – attitudes about what is expected of elected leaders.
Don't underestimate what you can do. Even worse, don't expect someone else to do it for you.
Attend meetings of your county and local governments; look to websites such as these for dates and times.
Luzerne County Council: www.luzernecounty.org/events
Wilkes-Barre Area School District: http://portal.wbasd.k12.pa.us/boe/Pages/default.aspx
Wilkes-Barre City Council: www.wilkes-barre.pa.us/citycouncil.php