Here, Friends, is the 5th installment of Professor J.H. Habermeyer’s scintillating essay on the seven figurative walls local government builds to protect itself from outside scrutiny and public oversight.
The 5th Wall
Having passed through the gauntlet of the four previous barriers erected to ward off our curiosity about what goes on inside the halls of local power, we are now confronted by the 5th wall. This wall consists of the impediments in the way of organized resistance.
The individual who has braved the ambuscades and man-traps placed in his way by the local bureaucracy has now learned that, mirabile dictu, he is not alone! Others of like mind have appeared along side him, to inquire, protest, admonish, to seek redress or even an iota of accountability from the local authority. There is nothing quite as reassuring as knowing that one’s misery enjoys company.
It is a well-known fact that in local government affairs any aroused amalgam of people is much stronger than the mere sum of its parts, and produces fear according to its numerical strength. This is because a group, unlike an individual, cannot be easily dismissed as a lone crank; and a united group, especially one with a name, suggests some other unknown number of silent supporters who at any moment may descend upon the town council or school board meeting.
But organization, with its attendant strength, also suffers from a concomitant weakness, to wit: keeping a band cohesive requires persistence and energy; time and lack of pecuniary resources are the enemy of both. Those inside the wall have all the resources at their disposal necessary to attain their goals in the face of opposition. Those outside the fifth wall do not. The fact that the government will use the resources extracted from the taxpayers, including the very wealth of its opponents, adds delicious irony to the utterly unequal engagement about to begin!
Temporizing, stalling, confusing, pettifogging are all the stock in trade of those in government. They can, and will, if opposition mounts, resort to tactics that will remind one of Dickens’ Bleak House, or better yet, Kafka’s The Trial. The aim, of course, is to outlast the opposition; to watch it dissolve, as it will inevitably do through natural entropy. Some may be appeased though co-option; others may drop away because of life’s other pressing business, or through resignation. But you may successfully wager that those inside the citadel will never resign, and have no more pressing business than to maintain control over the reigns of power.
Lower committee decisions may be appealed to a higher authority, of course – if you have the time and can afford the appeals fee. Studies may be commissioned by those in authority with no other purpose than to forestall action. The opposition may even be engaged in a cynical, time-consuming pas de deux only meant to drag out proceedings while attempting to appear conciliatory. In the end the result will almost invariably be the same: a dragged out “process” that ends exactly the way the bureaucracy want it to, the opposition having withered away.
The Seven Walls of Local Government