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Local Government - democracy inaction

This is nothing more than a glimpse into an example of what sort of people have power over your lives at the local level.

In July 2006 there were three candidates competing for a vacancy on the Dover City Council. Based on profiles in the Dover Post, I chose Jim McGiffin as the best prospect for considering majority will in his decisions.

I wrote Jim McGiffin:

I might vote for you, but I guarantee I will vote for you if you will make this promise: that you will always poll your constituents on every issue, and your action on the city council will ways reflect majority will.

It's a new kind of "leadership" that goes beyond anything previously imagined.

Think about it.


Donald Sauter


Jim kindly and honestly responded:

Thanks for your message. I would greatly appreciate your vote, but I cannot promise that I would poll constituents on every issue. Some issues may come up and require action too quickly. Some may require confidentiality (personnel issues and litigation issues come to mind as possibilities), and some issues will be more administrative in nature than substantive. I can promise that I will foster communication with constituents, that I will seek input from the residents constantly, and that I will always be open to opinions and ideas. I can also promise that I will act with he best interests of the third district residents my primary concern.

Jim McGiffin


Being a born head-against-the-wall-beater, I replied:

Thanks for the extended reply - much appreciated. Pure democracy has been my "thing" for the last 20 years. Examining it from every direction, I can't imagine a better system. I claim it can be logically proved to be the best system. (The majority rejecting majority rule gives rise to a paradox, see?) Even if the majority goofed up now and then - which I claim would be very rare - a) we would have nobody to blame but ourselves, and b) we would know we goofed up and undo the mistake. Compare that to conventional government, where the ordinary citizen can only gnash his teeth at our "leaders", and once something is implemented, we've got it forever. In any event, I have no doubts about your good intentions. I am a good friend of one of your opponents, who I also know to be a man of good intentions. But his natural thirst for power and control scares me to death. He always "knows best."

Moving from the somewhat philosophical to the practical, I want to point out that the internet can give an instant reading of the majority position. (Not that telephone technology couldn't have done the same job for the last 100 years.)



In April 2007 Jim made probably his most visible appearance up to that time in a Dover Post article called "Petition causes confusion for Council, Schoolview residents." The issue was rezoning some land for apartments in a neighborhood that didn't want apartments. The problem with the petition was that some residents added their spouse's name. The city council was divided over whether they should get another chance.

    Before the council meeting, about 25% of residents
    involved had signed the petition; because of the incorrect
    signatures, that number dropped to about 14%.
    City Solicitor Nicholas Rodriguez said the incorrect
    signatures were not uncommon.

    "You really can't blame them for that," he said. "I've
    seen petitions signed like that in the past."

    On the other hand, Rodriguez said it's not the job of
    council to teach the law to citizens.

    Both councilmen Eugene Ruane and William
    McGlumphy argued council should inform its citizens
    of proper procedure.

    It was this argument Councilman Jim McGiffin
    found problematic.

    "It's not the city's job to inform them of that," he
    said.  "We could never do a complete job of that, and to
    do an incomplete job would be a disservice."

    McGiffin, who voted against tabling the issue, said
    residents should have known better than to sign for
    their spouses.

    "They were all homeowners sitting in that room," he
    said. "They've all signed deeds, and they didn't sign
    the deed Mr. and Mrs. Homeowner."


That's the spirit, Jim! Who cares what the people want when we have technicalities???

In any case, the rezoning eventually went through. The petition was just a sop, anyway; the most they could have gotten out of it was requiring a majority plus one vote from the council.

Government always gets what it wants. And what developers want, government wants. Any surprises there?


Addendum, June 7 2007

After I had completed the above page, I had second thoughts about putting it up on the web. It didn't quite seem "heavy" enough, or of wide enough interest, or even personal enough to me. But it took some time and effort, and rather than discard it, I added it to my web site without calling any attention to it. I thought, if someone finds it who is searching specifically for this incident in Dover, all well and good.

It was quite a surprise to receive a phone call today, just about two weeks after putting the page up, from Frank, the Schoolview resident who headed up the petition drive. He provided some further information.

It turns out the issue was tabled the first time, giving Schoolview residents another chance to produce a petition. Frank said the second time around he got 100% of the affected homeowners to sign - 88 signatures. Frank spoke personally to all of the council members and in every case got responses which sounded supportive.

Three votes were needed to defeat the amendment in question changing land use type from commercial to "residential medium density". (Minutes from the council meeting I found on the web indicate a 3/4 majority vote was needed, as opposed to "majority plus one".) But when the vote was taken, there was only one (out of nine) votes against the rezoning. The "no" vote was by Bill McGlumphy.

Frank also told me that one of the councilmen has a son who works for the developer, but didn't think it necessary to excuse himself from the voting.

From my own point of view, as the staunchest proponent of government by majority will, I would see this as more of a city-wide issue. Do the residents of Dover want more apartments, and if so, do they want them in the Schoolview area? Each person would weigh all the pluses and minuses as he sees them: so-called "economic development" (whatever that is) vs. more traffic and overcrowding and fears (grounded in anything or not) about possibly less desirable newcomers. I'm sure many people would even be sympathetic to the feelings of the families living right next to the proposed apartments.

Given all of that, I'm willing to bet the city council still made the wrong decision.


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