Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Burning Ban Forum Shows Residents in Different Light - 8-5-09 Editorial

As of the first of this month, the burning was officially banned by a village ordinance that passed May 26 by a five to one vote.

In preparation for the ban that is now in place, the Village of Mahomet held a question and answer forum on July 30 to help address questions and concerns that residents affected by this ban might have on the new processes involved with getting rid of yard waste and leaves.

The plan for the evening was to address each new option for disposal, covering the machinery to be used, who would be running it, what kind of things would need to be done to be prepared for the pick ups, what days pick ups would fall on, etc. Following the informational section, audience members would be invited to ask questions about the new alternative disposal methods being implemented.

Unfortunately, by the end of the evening, it was apparent that many of the audience members missed the point of the forum.

Instead of coming to the forum with a cautious optimism for the new procedures, it appeared very much like some of the community members were looking for a way to show the village that they had made the wrong decision in banning burning, all while - ironically - saying that the democratic process seemed to have been misguided in this particular case.

Many of the claims against the village also included that the constituents of Mahomet who were in favor of burning were not represented well during the discussion process that led to the ban. It seemed to be a theme of the evening to say that, while there was discussion held about the issue, representation was not given to both sides equally.

However, there is a simple explanation for this: Inaction.

At one point, Village President Deb Braunig brought up a petition that had circulated through Mahomet and that 138 people had signed their names as proponents of the burning ban.

It was later touched upon by audience members that such a number was a poor representation of opinions on such a heavy issue. And that would normally be a fair assertion, save for the fact that it was not a split petition, taking opinions from both sides of the matter; it was a one-sided petition signed by people who wanted to see burning stop.

While 138 signatures is a small number compared to the number of people in Mahomet, it beg the question that would have likely not been answered directly that evening, of where the support was from the pro-burning residents?

138 people out of 12,000 is perhaps negligible when considering a cross-section for a general assessment, but when considering that 138 people who were on one side of the fence made it a point to be public and vocal about an issue before it went to vote compared with zero people from the other side of the fence in that same time, 138 out of 12,000 doesn't seem like such a small number.

Quite frankly, the attitudes that were displayed at the forum were embarrassing, and should have been to people who were there to gain some information before deeming the effort a failure. Instead of trying to understand and make the new program work, or it seemed as though there people out to find a fight because they could no longer burn.

So, here we are, four days into the burn ban. Many of the comments from the forum eluded to not having information on the discussion before it was voted on, along with no representation, which brings up the rub on this particular issue and any other issue of consequence: If you feel strongly enough about something, you will find the time to make yourself heard. Then, in turn, those who are meant to represent you on a larger level, will be able to take your concerns and address them as necessary.

In short, instead of waiting until after an issue has passed to express how displeased you are about the decision and condemning those who handed it down, meet them half way in the discussion. It’s selfish and unrealistic to assume that the village could read the minds of all the residents who were against the burning ban, so to suggest after the fact that the democratic process did not take place properly is merely a way of placing the blame somewhere other than where it belongs.

For anyone interested in reading about the coverage regarding the discussion of the burn ordinance leading up to the vote, here are the publication dates of stories that ran in the Mahomet Citizen before a decision was finalized and that announced the decision:

-March 25 (all dates are 2009)
-April 1
-April 8
-April 22
-April 29
-June 3
-June 10

Sometimes the difference between what happens and what could have happened depends on active residents becoming more informed about the things happening in their town.

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