Townsend H. Anderson: Courthouse debate

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With a tip of my hat to Lance Eldridge, author of "Unfriendly Politics" published in the Wednesday edition of the Steamboat Today, and at the risk of turning our subsequent friendly and engaging discussion into a public spectacle, we welcome an open and civil public debate (which we trust our local newspaper will encourage and support). After all, this is the hallmark of a healthy democracy.

Rather than bowing out of the process, the best interests of the community are perhaps better served if the Friends of the Justice Center thoughtfully respond to Lance's assertion that we are "more concerned with seizing the initiative from our elected county officials and inappropriately influencing and subverting the legitimate political process."

Neither the great thinkers of Athens nor Adam Smith ever contemplated the value of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, and James Madison's admonition against the "tyrannical nobles" was aimed at Alexander Hamilton's Federalist banking and capitalist cronies, forewarning us of the robber barons and industry magnates who would increasingly challenge this delicate notion of a government "of the people, by the people, for the people." Knowing Madison's role in the founding of our nation, he had no intention of quelling the rights of the common citizens to save a cornerstone of their community. Through his efforts and those of Jefferson, John Adams and others, we have been blessed with more than 200 years of freedom of the press, the right to free speech and the right to petition our government under the best democracy in the history of the world, albeit a still imperfect, and often times messy one.

Indeed, when does the right of the governed to exercise free speech and their constitutional right and responsibility to hold their government accountable end and "tyrannical nobles" begin? And who, really, are the "tyrannical nobles" who are trying "to corrupt our form of government for their own ends"? Are they the interested citizens participating in our democratic processes, including the Army Corps of Engineers permit process, or our elected officials who have arguably manipulated our public processes to achieve their own ends?

We agree that elected officials should not submit to the tyranny of the nobles, but in our democratic system of checks and balances, we are thankful for the First Amendment, which is our sole assurance that, in turn, we will not be subject to elected officials ruling tyrannically.

The real issue is not whether the elected officials or a special interest group will govern the community. The real issue is about good governance. The new court facility is about numerous missed opportunities to govern collaboratively, and it is not too late to recapture one of those opportunities.

It is worth reminding ourselves that the new high school, through a collaborative process, not only was relocated back to its present site, but also was reduced from a $40 million project to one that cost the taxpayers less than $25 million.

Was that the result of "tyrannical nobles" who corrupted our form of government for their own ends and subverted the legitimate political process, or interested citizens exercising their right and responsibility to hold their elected officials accountable? And does anyone in our community regret the results of their actions? Do we have the political will to revisit and repeat this community achievement?

Townsend H. Anderson

Friends of the Justice Center

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