Sunday, October 16, 2005

Column 54 - Apathy

It is pretty much an article of faith among those who are active in Village affairs that (a) the vast majority of Incline residents are apathetic and (b) those who are not totally apathetic are roused only by issues that impact them directly, e.g. golf or dog parks. On the face of it, this position seems reasonable – of 9000 residents, some 20 or 30 show up with some regularity at the Tuesday morning Bonanza Community Forum, and unless there is a hot issue under debate an IVGID meeting or a CAB meeting rarely draws even that many.

But while apathy may be a reasonable explanation for these and other facts, it’s not the only one and it’s not one I am very drawn to. I get around the Village quite a lot and people often talk to me about things they agree or disagree with in my column, or that they just want to discuss. No one I talk to seems particularly apathetic to me, and many of them are people whom I don’t see at the Forum or at IVGID meetings.

I have a few ideas about where the appearance of apathy comes from. First of all, I think we live at a time of deep cynicism about the ability of an individual to make their voice heard in any way that really affects how things are going. We’ve been trained at the national and state level that any advocacy that is not accompanied by large sums of money or large numbers of very vocal people or (preferably) both has no chance, and for the length of the current administration it seems that even that does not help if the position you are advocating is not in accord with the President’s pre-determined agenda. In a state the size of Nevada it isn’t hard to get access to our elected officials, but even at the state level it has taken a massive effort by the Tax Revolt, for example, to get any action at all, and as for the County, we have a part-time representative who also represents other parts of the county, so it seems hard to get heard even at that local level.

Compounding that is the problem of bureaucracy. Government at almost all levels is in the hands of people who were never elected and who are, by and large, accountable only to other bureaucrats and only tangentially to our elected officials. Some people who work in government agencies are great and are really committed to service. Too many, however, fit the stereotype of the officious bureaucrat who cares only for his or her own importance and not for the people they are ostensibly there to serve. TRPA, for example, has had this rep for so long it’s hard to deal with them in any other way.

But here’s the rub. It’s not that way in Incline. Our five trustees are people you see and have access to every day – two of them are regulars at the Bonanza Community Forum because they are genuinely committed to dialogue with the community. IVGID’s Executive Director, who could live at the most remote remove of the bureaucracy, is also a regular at that meeting as is the Director of Public Works, the Fire Chief, the Police Chief, the heads of the hospital, the library, and the Presidential Appointee to the TRPA Board. Even when I lived in a smaller community in Vermont where Town Meeting is the system of government, we did not have this kind of access or public officials this committed to being in communication with the community.

So if you’re apathetic, cynical, or resigned, I invite you to give it up and to start to make your voice heard by IVGID, Incline Vision, the Fire Board, the CAB, and anywhere else where you have something to say. In a community this small, with so many people who are already involved, there is really no reason why you shouldn’t be involved also.

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