Representative government is a lot of work. It requires you to be informed and then go and cast your ballot or raise your voice for or against any number of issues or candidates. Unfortunately, most of us are all too willing to raise our voices whether we are informed or not and participate in a decision that does more harm than good.
I have written about Martin Luther King Jr. County and whether the name of the county reflects the man and his movement. But I am also aware that the people who live in the county are the ones who determine its character and shape its intent.
I am on a personal quest to know more about this county, its present capabilities and its ability to impact our lives in the future. As part of that quest, I have taken on the task of hosting a community meeting for the county-wide community forums.
This event is a King County public-engagement initiative that is overseen by the King County auditor. It's independently funded (by the family that owns Dick's Drive-In restaurants) and is run by volunteers.
My forum will take place at the Douglass-Truth Library, 2300 E. Yesler Way, on Oct. 16, from 4:15 to 5:45 p.m. It will consist of some group discussions and a survey about the county government.
For example, I knew that King County was one of the largest counties, but I did not know that it covers 2,134 square miles and is almost twice as large as the average county in the United States. It has a population of more than 1.9 million people and is the 14th most populous county in the nation.
The county adopted a budget of $5 billion in 2010, which includes Metro's two-year budget, and is made up of both dedicated and discretionary funds.
Come to the forum and see how this money is spent and make your voice heard about how it should be spent in the future. These forums are the first step toward taking an active part in how this county operates.
African Americans have a particular interest in how the county allocates its tax revenue and awards contracts. All the records indicate that we receive very few contracts and get very little return on our tax dollars.
This may not be the forum to get all of our questions answered, but it is an opportunity to get better informed so that we ask the right questions in the future.
Because of hard economic times, the county is looking at ways to cut its budget, and if your priority is not noted, it may very well end up on the budget-cutting floor. According to county documents, to balance the 2010 budget, the county has already cut about $56 million in costs that would have maintained services at 2009 levels.
That followed a $93 million budget cut from 2009 and $60 million from 2008 to balance those budgets.
Many of the county cuts were in human services, public health, capital improvements and other programs that hit the most vulnerable citizens.
So the budget ax will continue to fall, and it's best to argue your case on the front end before cuts are made, than on the back end, when the program is gone and we are trying to get it back.
We can go on and on about what the county may do and why, but the important issue here is what you are going to do to make your voice heard.
Some refreshments will be provided by Dick's Drive-In Restaurants so you will not leave hungry, but it's the nourishment for the brain that I am hoping that you get from this forum. We all can make it our personal mission to make this county better and be among some of the most informed citizens in the nation.
I am proud to say that I live in Martin Luther King Jr. County. But I still don't know how to answer when someone says, "Does that mean something special?" It means what we make it mean, and it starts by taking a few minutes to get to know the place you live.
See you on the 16th.
CHARLIE JAMES has been an African-American community activist/writer for more than 35 years.[[In-content Ad]]