Residents Need Incentive for Civic Involvement

The title overstates the article a little bit, but “Few in Central Falls show interest in civic involvement” in today’s Providence Journal counts as evidence in support of the general point of view espoused almost exclusively (it seems) by Andrew Morse, on Anchor Rising, and me.  Namely, that bailouts and receiverships — even beyond the massive risk posed by their dip into totalitarianism — exacerbate, rather than repair, the infantilization dragging our society toward an inability to govern itself.

Last week, Robert G. Flanders Jr., the state-appointed receiver charged with lifting the city from bankruptcy, signed an order to form a nine-member Charter Review Commission that could dramatically change the way this 1.3-square-mile city is governed. He wants a commission comprising volunteers from the city’s five wards and a strong representation of Latinos, who make up more than 60 percent of the population.

But, so far, the interest has been tepid. Twelve people have applied for commission seats. The ordinance mandates the appointment of the city clerk, Marie Twohey.

The story begins with a statement from Central Falls resident and business owner Samuel Valera whose view of joining the commission is, “If I have to, I would.”  That’s an understandable attitude… and one far too prevalent in Rhode Island.  Granted Central Falls is a special (and extreme) case, but it’s fantastically emblematic.

As long as the natural inclination to avoid the “public service” of public office outweighs the feeling that nobody else who can be trusted will step forward, our state will continue slipping into its rut.  When the state refuses to step in to leverage its greater power and broader pool of taxable assets (i.e., you and me) to fix wayward municipalities, residents will begin to behave as if they “have to.”

From personal experience, I can testify that I do much more volunteering than I want to do, but my stepping away risks the real possibility that nobody else will step forward.  The people of Rhode Island (arguably, all of Western society) is too comfortable in the belief that somebody else will be willing to take the reins — too comfortable, because those who step forward are ever happy to exact a price in money and power for their “service.”