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May 2015 • Online Edition

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Government Of, By And For Needs Your Voice | Print |  E-mail

by Paul Kashmann

The form of government we have chosen to establish and to enforce the laws under which we shall live is best defined as a representative democracy.

We elect individuals charged with putting forth our interests when laws are written, and other decisions are made that may affect our promised path to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The powers we give to our representatives are defined on the larger scale by that most hallowed of documents, the U.S. Constitution. The general format by which representatives are chosen, how laws are written, how war is waged and how our government is structured is locked down by constitutional mandate, so that people can tinker with details but not affect the prime directives that guide our ship of state without going through a whole passel of fits and starts.

A direct democracy requires that decisions are made by a vote of all the people. It can work in situations where the population is of manageable size and the decisions to be made are not too numerous. But to involve the entire nation of electors in every governmental decision would be impossibly unwieldy. Hence, every American has two state senators and a varied number of congressfolk (based on state population) charged with looking after their best interests in the U.S. Congress.

On a more local level, we elect city council representatives, aldermen or the like to watch after our civic concerns, and school board representatives to guide our public education system, theoretically with constituent will guiding their efforts.

Therein lies the rub. Constituent will. As most decisions are not black and white, good or bad, opinions on how our representatives should vote can vary from household to household. Thus, it is not always easy for our elected officials to clearly determine the majority or consensus will, of those they would serve. This leads to somebody being disappointed in most decisions that are made. As has been said, “You can please all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t please all the people, all of the time.”

So, as nice as it would be to simply sit back knowing your wishes were guiding the rule of law, I’m afraid that would be a foolish assumption. You need to be sure first your representative knows your wishes, and then do what you can to see that your will becomes that of a majority of your peers.

You probably don’t need to fight the good fight on every bill that comes before city council, the state legislature or Congress, because a lot of what they do are simple housekeeping measures that are of little concern. But when it’s a matter you hold dear, when it’s a hill on which you’re willing to die, you’ve really got to step forward if you want to be counted.

The game doesn’t stop after the votes are tallied and your representatives are sworn in. And your ability to effect change does not stop when a decision is handed down from those who have taken office. The opportunity and obligation to insert individual conscience into the middle of representative government is a concept that applies to us all.

A couple of months back, Denver City Council voted unanimously to approve a proposal allowing construction of a 7-story high rise on the site of the old post office building at 245 Columbine St. in Cherry Creek North.

In advance of the vote, a large and active group of residents had attempted to convince Council that the development in question was too large for the context in which it would be placed, and was in conflict with the guidelines of a white paper that city staff, residents and local business owners had drafted to guide development in the area until a new Cherry Creek Area Plan is approved.

Not satisfied with the decision passed down, the Cherry Creek North Neigh-borhood Association has filed suit under Rule 106 of the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedures, which provides a course of appeal when citizens are unhappy with the decisions passed down by their representatives.

As The Profile went to press, the matter was winding its way through the legal system, with no indication of when or how things might unfold.

Similarly, parks advocates citywide have expressed outrage at Council’s decision to approve a land swap with Denver Public Schools exchanging some nine acres of open space attached to Hentzell Park in southeast Denver for a DPS-owned office building at 13th Ave. and Fox St.

The school district plans to build an elementary school on the land it has received, while the city will use its new office building as a center for victims of domestic violence.

The anti-swap contingent complains that selling even a tiny piece of Denver’s limited parkland for anything to anybody is in violation of the city charter, which demands a vote of the people must take place to consummate such transactions. While the open space in question has been “designated” as parkland, it has never been formally “dedicated” as such, and thus can be sold on the authority of the Manager of Denver Parks and Recreation.

A grassroots organization, Friends of Denver Parks, Inc. has begun circulating petitions to get a measure on the November ballot that would deed the parkland back to the city. Denver’s City Clerk has rejected similar petitions in the past, asserting City Council acted within the scope of its authorization. The opponent’s attorney, John Case, disagrees with the city’s interpretation of the charter, and is looking forward to stating his case in court if necessary.

In most cases, when a citizens’ group rises up in protest of a government action, or that engineered by a private company, those individuals are out-financed and outmanned by teams of staff attorneys. But belief in the privilege of self governance has inspired many Davids to rise up in opposition to the heavy-handed actions of far too many Goliaths.

In some cases citizens have emerged victorious, and in others their objections have failed to win the day. But they spoke their minds and fought the good fight. And whatever the odds of success, or the eventual outcome of the battle, we would urge you to hold dear the words of Margaret Mead, that have inspired so many to stand strong against all odds: “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Go forth. 

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