In this issue, we tell a detailed story about how a community-based board grappled for less than a month with a proposal that they turn over millions of dollars to a larger non-profit to aid in development of affordable housing for senior citizens.
The Terrebonne Council on Aging eventually voted to take the first steps in that process, in part because of urging by Parish President Michel Claudet. As the project moves forward we have hope that if its construction on the site of the old Houma Elementary School comes to pass, it will benefit well the people who should be kept foremost in mind, the men and women who gave the best of their lifetimes to keep the economy strong, send kids to school and nurse them through illnesses. While only some of our seniors are veterans of military service, all of them are veterans of life, and as they took care of us when we were younger, we should see to it as a community that they have the very best there is as they grow older.
The Terrebonne Council on Aging has worked toward that goal for nearly 50 years, and they should be commended for what they have accomplished thus far.
In reporting this story reporters listened to hours of recordings from TOCA board meetings, and several things became evident.
The arguments, the occasional tension and the pertinent questions these board members presented, no matter one’s personal opinion on the matters at hand, reflected the reason why we have our tax dollars spent by multi-member boards, rather than entrust them to one individual. Each opinion and argument was the product of each individual’s unique background and life experience.
There were moments of sharp division. But division in a board, so long as it is effectively harnessed, can be a good thing. It is a sign that people are thinking for themselves, that they must be convinced rather than led, that they are capable of coming up with a synthesis, eventually, that while not pleasing to all, is at least reasonably palatable to all.
The members of the TCOA board, like those of other such bodies that oversee fire protection, recreation, lighting and other valuable and essential services, are all volunteers. When the bodies they supervise become newsworthy it is too often because there is complaint or dissatisfaction in the air. This is unfortunate because it means that the good work they do is often unnoticed and therefore great deeds performed by collections of common people go unsung.
This is perhaps why local governments have difficulty filling voluntary boards and commissions.
We in the newspaper industry are at fault as well. We should be paying more attention when we can and where we can to these shining examples of democracy in action.
What became clear in monitoring the TCOA board’s discussions and debates was that we were hearing, with each voice for or against a given concept regarding the senior housing project’s fate, the sound of freedom and self-government as loud as the peals of the Liberty Bell itself.
To help freedom ring we don’t always need to go to war. We sometimes just need to spend hours problem-solving and debating, ensuring that the widest range of opinions, in a thankless job helps keep the wheels of our communities move ahead.
The Houma High School project presented an unprecedented challenge to TCOA members, who chose to accept a proposal of which many at first were leery. When a decision was finally made it was not the result of fiat, but obvious careful consideration.
We urge our readers to pick a topic that interests them concerning local government and to take some time to go. See and hear first-hand how select groups of your neighbors are striving to make their towns, their parishes and their state a better place to live and work.
And maybe, while you watch the work your neighbors are doing, you might even be inspired.
It is only through direct involvement in civic affairs that we can truly ensure that important work is carried out in the way we might wish to see it done, in a way that allows each of us a voice.