Regular readers may or may not know that Skip and I have another blog, GilfordGrok, where we cover issues relating to our home town, Gilford, NH. Both of us also happen to serve on the town’s Budget Committee (GBC) that passes final judgement on town and school spending proposals the voters ultimately vote upon.
GilfordGrok has become yet another source for townsfolk to become informed about the myriad of issues faced by the town as a whole. At the beginning of the budget season, a subcommittee of the GBC conducted a comparative study of salary data between Gilford and 32 similarly sized towns in NH. The executive summary is published on the blogsite, along with approximately 90 tables (!) of supporting data for all who care to see.
Given the free-wheeling spirit of the blogosphere, at times you can imagine that the topics and thoughts that get posted can get mighty hot. And they have been. There has been reports of repeated grumbling on the part of those who wish to continue "business as usual" as far as out of control spending goes in our town. Certain elected and bureaucratic persons within the town and school governments have been heard openly complaining about the "stuff that’s up on that website, you know, the ‘Grok thing…"
What really irks them is that they no longer have full control of the means to communicate with the citizens. Prior to the advent of the blogosphere, the main source of information for ordinary people was through the carefully filtered (yes, even at the local level) "mainstream media" like newspapers, TV, and to a lesser extent, radio. Now, anybody with a keyboard and a website address can help disseminate news and opinion.
Today’s UnionLeader.com carries a story that demonstrates the growing power of blogs in the political arena at the local level. Correspondent Nancy Foster reports:
Milford – In the era of MySpace.com and The Drudge Report, it seems that everybody who’s anybody has a blog. Sending one’s opinions out into the infinite ether of the Internet has become part of daily life, and in Milford, it’s beginning to shape the town’s political landscape..
Selectman Jim Dannis has been using his blog, www.jimdannis.com, to air his opinions about town politics and policies between regular board meetings. Selectman Larry Pickett also has a blog but his posts are infrequent.
No problem here, right? Well, you know how it goes- it’s not a problem until it causes somebody some heartburn…
Recently, Selectman Noreen O’Connell has come under fire in Dannis’ blog when he accused his fellow selectman of unethical behavior for accepting a half-price membership to Hampshire Hills Athletic Club in Milford last year, six weeks after O’Connell, who sat on the planning board, voted in favor of expansion plans for the facility.
Hampshire Hills offers half-price memberships to all employees and volunteer board members for the town of Milford.
I’ll bet more than one person in that town might be surprised to learn of the reduced memberships for those in government. While there may have been nothing untoward about the expansion, the fact that persons wielding powers of approval & denial got special deals is at the very least, discomforting. The UL piece continues:
Gary Daniels, chairman of the board of selectmen said that when blogs are used to "float ideas and communicate with the public," the technology can benefit the townspeople.."But if you put something out there that should be discussed in a meeting," he said, "it works to the detriment of the town."
Or when some bit of information that would have gone undiscovered and/or unreported in days gone by….
The Cabinet, Milford’s weekly newspaper, reported on Thursday that O’Connell will not seek reelection to the board when her term ends in 2008, in part, because of Dannis’ blog..O’Connell told the Union Leader that her reasons for not seeking reelection were a result of long-established plans to retire, not the Web site.."My husband (state representative Tim O’Connell) and I have agreed to retire together and to focus on our farm at the end of this term," O’Connell said. "It has nothing to do with the blog.".But O’Connell did say she was fed up with the constant bickering on the board and believes Dannis is hurting the town with his comments about town employees and officials on the Internet.
This is becoming to be a more familiar refrain these days. Knowledge is power. An enlightened citizenry is the bane of bad government. Perhaps Ms. O’Connell’s departure is just the beginning of a mass exodus of certain individuals from public "service"? You would think that they would be glad to show the folks what’s being done on their behalf, wouldn’t you?
H/T: Tom T.