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Our County by Lynda Hopkins, 5th District Supervisor

Grassroots Governance is Community Empowerment

Jul 30, 2017
by Lynda Hopkins, 5th District Supervisor - Sonoma County

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I was attending a birthday party the other day when I met a friend and supporter of my opponent in the last election. He was, by his own admission, shocked to see that I was a caring, decent, compassionate human being. (In the moment we met, I was a mom attempting to prevent my daughters from demolishing the French fry tray.) He and I joked about the fact that I didn’t, as he’d initially suspected, come equipped with devil’s horns, cloven hoofs, and a forked tail.

“It’s crazy,” I told him. “In today’s world, no one believes that two good people could possibly run in an election against each other. So they demonized us both.”

This man actually apologized for the things he’d thought about me. (I assured him thought-crimes weren’t illegal… yet.)

An oddly sweet moment at a birthday party demonstrated everything that is wrong – and everything that could be right – about local politics. And it caused me to think back to the ugliness of the 2016 campaign: the race for West County Supervisor, as well as the national election. It’s about time, locally and nationally, that we hit the reset button on politics. Democrat, Republican, Green, Libertarian, Independent: all of the parties fight bitterly, both among their own and against one another. Our country lacks a clear national majority. One might say that only party with a clear majority in the United States is POPOV. No, I’m not describing some new Russian insurgency. I’m talking about theParty Of Pissed Off Voters.

How has POPOV gained so much power? Why are we all so disgusted with government? In my opinion, campaigning has gotten too expensive, and government has become too insular. This has led to ugly, hard-fought campaigns, and communities – especially in rural areas – that feel as though they’re on the outside looking in. Democracy is not meant to be a spectator sport. It’s participatory. Yet few people feel empowered to participate in government at a local, state, or federal level.

It’s easy to talk about what’s wrong with politics. But I’m not here to complain, and I’m not even here to work within a broken system. I’m here to fix the system… or more specifically, to reinvent the system. I want to create a new, better, more participatory government.

That reinvented system starts with grassroots governance. The way I see it, my job as Supervisor is not to tell you what to do. My job is to empower you to determine the future of your own community. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you I can pull miracles out of thin air – that suddenly Sonoma County roads will be smoothly paved in gold; that homelessness will end by December; that rents will decrease fifty percent by next Friday. Those are not realistic goals. But what I can do is work with you to address failing infrastructure, homelessness, and an escalating cost of living.

I’m lucky to serve on a Board of Supervisors that believes in citizen empowerment. My colleagues are receptive to changing the way we interact with unincorporated communities. And I’m excited to announce that on July 18, the Board approved a framework for the creation of Municipal Advisory Councils (MACs). These “MACs” will enable rural communities to have a greater voice and role in local government. Importantly, the County will be looking for a way to fund staff to support the work of these Councils. We felt that the staff we hire to support the Councils should not be County staff, but rather individuals hired from the local communities.

I look forward to working with the Russian River and Coastal communities to find an appropriate form of local self-governance. There are a suite of options, from a Municipal Advisory Council, to aCitizens Advisory Committee, to Community Improvement District,Community Services District, or Enhanced Infrastructure District, among others.

In the Fall, I will be holding informational town hall meetings on the topic. And in the meantime, I’ve convened a citizens task force to address the ongoing homelessness crisis in the lower Russian River. This group will ultimately come up with a recommendation for how to spend the money allocated for this crisis during budget hearings. I’ve included representatives from all of the citizens groups who have been advocating on the issue since I took office. I’ve also included representatives from the impacted Districts in the area (Guerneville Parks and Rec, Monte Rio Rec and Parks, as well as Russian River and Monte Rio Fire).

Unlike the RASAD process back in 2007, press will be allowed to attend these meetings. Ultimately, the task force’s recommendation will come before the Board of Supervisors for public consideration.

Convening a task force to spend public dollars is certainly unusual in Sonoma County.

Usually, the County undertakes a standard Request for Proposals process. But I’m excited to convene – and empower – a group of fifteen partners representing the diversity of perspectives I’ve been hearing from to collaboratively decide how to spend this new money. Since it’s public money, there are naturally some guidelines and basic parameters. But there is wisdom, compassion, and an irrepressible spirit contained within our rural communities, and these communities have told me that they want more control over what gets done by the County. So let’s create a more collaborative form of governance and engage in shared decision-making from here on out.

At the end of the day, if you disagree with a decision I’ve made, it’s my job to hear you out. And I know there will be times when we’ll disagree. But instead of me making decisions from the County Complex in Santa Rosa and you expressing frustration after the fact, I’d rather we work together. I’m a human being, just like you. I’m a Sonoma County resident, just like you. I’m a parent, like many of you. I’m a farmer, like some of you. I love and cherish the Russian River and the Coast, as I hope all of you do. My point is: you and I are no different, except for one thing… I’m pretty sure I have the best boss in the world. My boss is the West County community. I’m here to work for you. And more importantly, I’m here to work with you.

Questions? Comments? Concerns? Ideas? As always, you can reach me at lynda.hopkins@sonoma-county.org.

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