Plumas County is a unique place, not just because of the rural nature of our communities and the beautiful backdrop of forested mountaintops and majestic valleys but also because of the rare configuration of land ownership.
Here in Plumas an abnormally large proportion of land is owned by some level of government, while other significant tracts are owned by a few large private entities like railroads, logging companies and Pacific Gas and Electric.
For this reason government is perhaps more of a focus in Plumas than in other parts of the country, if that’s possible right now.
Covering our local government during the rise of the tea party movement has been particularly interesting for me because of that.
I’m sure readers occasionally pick up bits and pieces of my thoughts about the people who work in government in Plumas by reading my articles, but I figured after over three years of covering it I should take a moment to give a more direct impression.
It seems the tea party came into existence to fill the need of some people to remind the Republican Party and eventually the government at large of the conservative economic principles that various layers of U.S. government seem to have forgotten.
In terms of the recent narrative of national politics the tea party’s sudden rise has not been surprising but it has been interesting to see how some people have tried to aim its brand of criticism at local officials.
This has been particularly surreal for me as our county government has basically cut itself in half in recent years in terms of its number of employees.
Meanwhile local departments have received awards for efficiency and sound financial management and, despite our small size, some of our department heads are known statewide as experts in their fields or advocates for rural areas.
At a recent audit report presentation an independent auditor referred to Plumas County government as “one of the good ones” in terms of financial management.
As far as I can tell, our local government couldn’t possibly be friendlier to the tea party cause; in fact, a majority of Board of Supervisors members have attended tea party meetings in the last month.
Despite this fact, Plumas County has not escaped practically constant accusations and suspicions relating to fiscal management and small government philosophy.
Hilariously, Assessor Chuck Leonhardt faced opposition from a candidate in his last election who essentially tried to paint himself as the “real conservative,” ostensibly as opposed to Chuck.
Laughably, this was during a time when Leonhardt was one of the first members of the local Economic Recovery Committee, which spends most of its time writing our state and federal political representatives, urging them to help the timber industry and fight government regulation.
This is a perfect example of the strange mentality that often finds itself involved in local political participation by the public.
I am sure there are the occasional employees in local government who don’t do the best for the people they serve, who cut corners and waste funds, but I can almost guarantee from what I’ve seen that they are much rarer than the dedicated people who truly believe in the value of serving their fellow citizens.
I would argue that if there is a problem in Plumas County it certainly isn’t that most local government officials don’t believe in efficiency and small government, it’s that so many people in our small county prescribe to the mentality that they know better than the person next to them.
How often do you hear someone comment that they know how to run a business better than the person down the street or that they could do someone else’s job better?
If you’re like me you hear that kind of talk almost every day.
The trend has become extremely apparent in the area of economic development recently, where different groups found themselves battling over the same shrinking pie of funding and tempers flared.
The largest cause of inefficiency that I can see in our county is that many people spend more time worrying about what someone else might be doing wrong than dealing with their own affairs.
This leaves local politicians in a place where often they are thinking as much about what the public will think about how a decision sounds as they do about how the decision will actually affect the public.
The reality is that we are in a financial downturn and the stress of seeing that play out locally affects us all, but if our only reaction to that challenge is to spend our time assuming that things would be a little better if not for the failings of the guy next door, we will not only miss opportunities to make a positive difference, but also destroy one of the strongest aspects of small town life: a strong, close-knit community that sticks together and works together.
This is not an argument against public participation in government, but a reminder that we should be sure, when we open our mouths to complain, that we have an actual problem we are trying to solve instead of attempting to work out our own issues by assuming someone else is causing a problem.
Our state may be broken, the fed may be in disrepair, but our community isn’t yet unless we let it be. If we do the only people to blame will be ourselves.