The Seven Walls of Local Government; Wall #3 -The Performance

What? We can’t hear you. You’re going to have to speak up.

Here is the third installment of Professor J.H. Habermeyer’s essay on the means and methods local government uses to keep the citizenry at bay.


The Third Wall

Once the vast majority of potential scrutineers has been successively winnowed out by its own indifference, by pseudo-technical obfuscation, and by awkward meeting times, a hardy type of citizen remains: the man who has steeled himself to learn of an issue; who has cut through enough of the bureaucratic gobbledygook to have at least a passing familiarity with the gist of the topic; and who has rearranged a busy schedule to attend a hearing on said subject.

The Hearing! And now we advance apace to confront perhaps the cruelest hoax in the the local government’s repertoire.

We are all familiar with the quaint image of the New England township or village council meeting: a handful of honest selectmen addressing themselves and the town’s business to their neighbors. Such an ennobling image is now a far cry from the typical local government meeting that is run by professional bureaucrats employed for their alleged expertise, and whose arrogance has been fermented by years of education, training, and wielding of this “expertise” – regardless of the selfish likes or dislikes of their agency’s constituents.

The modern public hearing is run much more like a corporate board meeting than the picturesque town council pow-wow described above. And like any corporate executive conducting a board meeting, woe unto the chief bureaucrat who permits an item onto a public meeting agenda about which he has not fully briefed his political overlords and about which he is confident of majority, or ideally unanimous, approbation!

Once he ventures into the chambers of his elected officials, our intrepid citizen quickly notices that the seats reserved for these elected officials are elevated upon a dais, above those seated in the audience. These august personages are surrounded by their professional advisors and are physically separated from their constituents. This is telling. Very often the municipal executive himself is elevated, too – demarcating his stature as an equal with the elected representatives, and apart from the common herd.

And then the meeting commences: a scripted performance that puts the observer in mind of the heavily stylized kabuki; or, perhaps an Oscar Wilde drawing room farce without the wit. Very often the elected officials will read from actual scripts prepared for them by the bureaucrats. It is an embarrassing, but necessary price to pay to make sure the proper liturgical rites are observed.

The Deity is invoked; the Pledge of Allegiance recited. Thus the Almighty and the spirit of patriotism infuse the room – lending authority, sacred and profane, to the goings on.

The staff presents its proposals. The rhetoric and confoundation will put any self-respecting pettifogging lawyer to shame. Pre-arranged questions are posed and pre-arranged answers are produced. When necessary, witnesses are brought forth to shore up the credibility of the government. They, too have been bought and paid for with taxpayer’s money.

It hardly matters whether the answers are responsive or not. For any answer is seemingly good enough, and the more incomprehensible the better: comprehension on the part of the public would presuppose intellectual equality.

Finally it is the public’s turn to opine. Those who have endured the inconvenience of place and time will get to speak and ask questions themselves. Since many are made acutely uncomfortable by public speaking and some contemplate it with outright dread more potential critics are screened out; others will be intimidated by the surroundings or by the supposed expertise of the government’s phalanx of experts and lawyers. Even so, some may very likely remain.

Unlike the elected representative, the citizen has only a limited time to address his government and his questions may or may not be answered, depending on the whim of the chair. Finally, when the public is done the hearing is closed and the board blithely returns to its business and takes its pro forma vote. The dues required by the democratic republic have been paid.

The Seven Walls of Local Government

<< Wall #2: Bread or Circus? | Wall #4: Reindeer Games >>

28 Replies to “The Seven Walls of Local Government; Wall #3 -The Performance”

      1. I don’t know about that. Hovey is succeeding wildly with test scores and the majority of teachers and staff are highly motivated. Hovey has initiated policy that demands that all of the principals show up to the board meetings and I find him to be a proactive manager. It is difficult to both exceed in meeting sometimes screwy standards and actually getting kids to learn. However, we have some serious work to do with respect to changing the attitudes of this district about our role as servants of the very generous taxpayers. There is no doubt that FSD will struggle to get out of the long established behaviors which contribute to a jobs-program mentality more so than a taxpayer value mentality. We need to be a part of the solution and not continue to contribute to the problem with our words and deeds.

  1. Hi Guys –

    Thanks for the essays, very interesting. Who is J.H. Habermeyer? We’ve been looking through directories and academic resources to learn more about him. Any help?



    1. Mr. Barber, journalist extraordinaire, perhaps instead of investigating the essays of a dead college professor as posted on some blog, you should be looking into the many misdeeds and abuses of the Fullerton police.

      I’m just sayin’…

      1. Probably works for Back the Bullshit. I remember that completely bogus story he published in 2011 about some supposed itinerant jewelry peddler who claimed to have witnessed the Kelly Thomas murder. The guy gave a completely different story than the video showed, but that exonerated the cops. It was an obvious set-up – probably courtesy of Goodrich – and was never retracted.

      2. Davis Barber’s news site went belly up a long time ago. He still teaches Photoshop to communications majors at CSUF.

  2. Of which hardy type there’s a dearth in our fair city.

    Actually, it is those who attend the OTHER meetings with the elected officials who have the voice that is heeded, the rotarians, the chamberians, the heroeans, the florentinians, the gopians.

  3. “Thus the Almighty and the spirit of patriotism infuse the room – lending authority, sacred and profane, to the goings on.”

    Incredibly true. Enduring the pain of a taxpayer reaming seems so much more dutiful when it has the blessing of the Lord.

  4. This continues to be good stuff. The chamber of elected officials rings true. Not unheard of for them to ask the staff (bureaucrats, including the CEO or City Manager) for questions they can pose during the hearing so they will look insightful and be a player. Of course, they know not only the question, but what the answer will be. Makes them look in tune, on top of hte issue, when the real agenda is how they appear, not the substance of the public policy item before them. So often these electeds are reading from a script they asked be prepared for them.

  5. “The Deity is invoked; the Pledge of Allegiance recited. Thus the Almighty and the spirit of patriotism infuse the room – lending authority, sacred and profane, to the goings on.”

    Yeah, baby, cross and country as Fitzgerald sells us out to the latest developer. Jesus loves him some dee-velopment in Fullerton!

  6. “… whose arrogance has been fermented by years of education, training, and wielding of this “expertise” – regardless of the selfish likes or dislikes of their agency’s constituents.”

    You have to love Habermeyer’s turn of phrase.

  7. I thought Travis and Tony, and during this last election Joe Imbriano, were going to come into Fullerton, take over, and fix everything that’s so called broken? Oh what happened?

  8. It’s not just that the public is limited to three minutes while the city staff has as they desire to make their case – they also get the last word. Most “responses” from staff to the public consist of rebuttals, and much of that concerns new contentions that were never identified in the staff report, meaning the public has never had a chance to weigh in on rebut the brand new contentions.

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