A great deal of our study of “State and Local Government” deals with the relationship between the central (federal) government and the states. However, local government is considered to be the most basic of government
units, in that it is the closest, both in terms of proximity and emphasis, to its
citizens. Many of the issues debated and decisions made by these local bodies directly affect its residents. Issues like: An increase in the property tax rate; Changing the flow of traffic on a street from two – way to one – way; An overnight “on street” parking ban; or Closing an elementary school directly affect the quality of life and pocketbooks of its citizens. The purpose of this exercise is to help you to understand how decisions are made at the local level and to understand the political considerations that are a part of those decisions.
1.Choose a municipality. It may be your hometown or one of the communities near school.
2.Then choose a board, committee or commission in that municipality. Check out a couple of city or town websites. Newton, Lexington, Burlington, Weston, Waltham, Watertown, Burlington, and Arlington are all fairly close to school and have worked out well for students in the past. Look at past meeting agendas and minutes on these websites. Select a board or committee where there is an ongoing controversy. The Newton School Committee is a good one because of the $250 million high school –but not everyone should choose
that board. Also Planning Boards and ZBA’s (Zoning Boards of Appeal) are also usually fun – there is always one guy who wants to add a second story to his house and there is always some abutter who objects because it will block his or her view. Or better yet, they always want to open a halfway house for newly – released prisoners right in the middle of a residential neighborhood or next to an elementary school. The more controversial the issue that is before the board, the easier it will be to write this paper (it will also be more fun for you). A list of some nearby municipalities and links to their meeting schedules is attached.
3.After choosing a board, committee or commission, your assignment is to attend one of the body’s meetings. You must go to the meeting -you are NOT to watch it on local access cable television. Analyze an issue brought before the body by Preparing a paper, six (6) to eight (8) pages in length that analyzes the controversy, the positions of the various factions, and the board’s action. In your analysis, you should consider the following:
i. Who won? Why?
ii. Who lost? Why
iii. Was the board’s decision justified?
iv. Was the board’s decision wise?
v. If you were a member of the board, who you have ruled
vi. What was the determining issue for you?
vii. Were the parties satisfied? Why?
viii. Is the board’s decision subject to appeal?
ix. Was the board’s decision ethical?
Your paper should include a fair amount of research and citations to local newspaper articles, as well as to The Boston Globe and Boston Herald.
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