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Community should participate

City government is democracy in action. But by its very definition, democracy requires that members of a community be able to participate in critical decisions made by elected officials.

Without citizens participating, the democratic process becomes a concept without meaning and valueless to the citizens. Decisions made by the Lake Oswego City Council that significantly impact the entire community will have greater success and greater acceptance among our fellow citizens if the city council collaboratively works with the public to find solutions that enjoy broad support.

By facilitating meaningful public participation, our city council creates a direct connection between community members and themselves.

A public participation process that allows meaningful influence on critically important decisions is essential to an effective and democratic city government.

The difficult decisions facing our community in 2009 and beyond, need an active, engaged city council and an active and engaged citizenry to make community decision making successful. Public concerns, needs and values must be incorporated into this decision making process.

A new, energized public participation process may be able to facilitate a resolution of some of the more significant issues facing our community in the next few years, such as the West End Building, the proposed street car and development in the Foothills area. As a result of a meaningful public participation process, we can create a genuine dialog among various members of our community who have different points of view.

This dialog provides a mechanism for genuine interaction and allows all viewpoints to be considered. It is important to have all affected stakeholders and all of the various opinions represented. If citizens are not allowed to participate, that becomes a prescription for controversy.

Public participation requires that members of the community who have differing opinions come together, engage with each other and arrive at a solution that is in the best interest of the community. However, one of the challenges of any public participation process is encouraging members of the community to participate.

Based upon my past experience on city council, members of our community participate only when they perceive that they have a significant stake in the decision being made by the city council.

The stake may be economic use or other impacts or may be rooted in values or philosophy. But as a general concept, the community members typically do not participate unless they perceive that their interests or values will be affected.

Thus, it is important for the next mayor and city council to seek out those who don't normally participate in these efforts. It is necessary to 'listen for voices not in the room.'

The responsibility for improving the quality of life in Lake Oswego does not rest exclusively with the city council or the employees of Lake Oswego, but rather rests with all citizens working together to make a difference in the civic life of our community. As a result, our community is the better for it.

Jack Hoffman is a Lake Oswego resident and a candidate for mayor.