Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Remembering the Fourth on the fifth

One of the enduring values the United States was built upon — at least in the eyes of people like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin — was that unchecked and unquestioned authority is a path to tyranny. Hence the First Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees the rights of the people to petition the government for a redress of grievances and to speak without fear of government reprisal, as well as the protection of journalists to print their material without prior review or censorship. (It also guarantees the right to assemble peacefully and the right to religious freedom.)

It's a concept as American as apple pie.

Attendees of Tuesday's City Council meeting were reminded of this by a citizen who has made himself a staple at council meetings the past year or so: David Helm, who somewhat fittingly owns a tavern on Central Avenue and 10th Street. (I say fittingly, because the American independence movement gathered steam in the bars and pubs of New England.)

He took to the podium again Tuesday, the fifth of July, to say it wasn't his intent to be "highly critical" of the city, a characterization offered by a recent Press report on the City Council's Brown Act compliance. Rather, he quoted Jefferson and Franklin, saying that it's the duty of all citizens to keep government honest.

"When things are wrong, they need to be righted ... that hasn't been done so far," he said, referring to an investigation of police department personnel that has dragged on far beyond the city's own time limits for such inquiries.

Aside from the specific complaint, which needs to be addressed by the city, the take-away is that an involved citizenry is a key to ensuring government functions with the interest of its constituents in mind. We've seen — especially on the federal level — that government can become an insular place that serves the well-connected, rather than the average guy and gal.

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