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CITS Observations:
 
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This is such a compelling piece about the politics of the local
provision of 'safety nets' for society.
 
I can hear the conservative cry in my ears, "Push people hard
enough with no handouts and they will become productive
members of society."
 
Is the conservative expectation of the states and localities
picking up the load a ruse?  Probably.
 
Al Gore wrote "The Gore Report on Reinventing Government."  It
calls for "empowering employees to get results" and suggests
giving federal workers the tools they need to do their jobs.
 
What the federal workers need to do their job is the next
generation of information technology that combines federal
mandates with community feedback.
 
As a member of LINCT (Learning and Information Networks for
Community Telecomputing) we are working on a database design
that operates at the community level to track work done by
members of the community using "Com Net Credits" -- modeled
after Edgar Cahn's work with Time Dollars.
 
This very same database will contain baseline information about
credits and a growing resume on each member.  It will contain
the seeds of community growth by permitting those without jobs,
or jobs they can't bear, to build up both a work ethic and a
system of local encouragement.
 
At the same time, this database can be used to coordinate various
forms of federal aid.  How?  That's up to us to design.
We are working on one design in Suffolk County, NY to help
welfare mothers earn their GED.
 
When it comes to dollars and politics, we know that there
are certain problems that must be uniformly solved across the
states.  The solution is not to just push the job off, onto the
states, but to join with the states in an accountable process
that makes use of the new technologies.
 
These technologies must protect privacy but also provide each
contributing person the recognition and respect that they may
wish to earn.
 
Contact LINCT at 516-728-9100 for more information and help
us design "local rotaries" that can be hubs in the "information
highway."
 
W. Curtiss Priest, Editor
The Cyberspace Society
 
****************************Advertisement********************************
Subscriptions to the Boston Globe can be received by calling 617-929-2000
****************************Advertisement********************************
 
Boston Globe, March 15, 1995, p. 15
 
ALAN LUPO
 
The myth of 'local knows best'
 
To hear the leaders of both political parties, as
they outdo one another in debasing Washing-
ton and extolling state and local government,
 
you would think that every American village,
town, city, county and state is a paragon of virtue and
competence.
 
We have returned to the mythology of local govern-
ment, to that Norman Rockwell painting of the New
Hampshire town meeting in progress.
 
"Part of my job," President Clinton told the National
Governors' Association recently, "is to keep pushing the
focus of the national government back to grass-roots
America, where we can solve so many of our problems
more effectively."
 
Republican leaders are even more aggressive. Be it
welfare, law enforcement, education - why, they say,
there's nobody better qualified to figure out what to do
than the good folks at home.
 
One wonders which grass roots they mean.
 
Could they have meant the state of Massachusetts,
where the rush to privatize mental health services result-
ed in too few beds for severely ill patients? This is, after
all, the state run by William Weld, who told a congres-
sional panel that the poor in Massachusetts could handle
the GOP "Contract with America," which, some say,
would cost the state $2.6 billion in federal grants over
seven years.
 
Could they have read of the recent report by the
Association of Higher Education ''
 
   The feds have
   stepped in
   because local
   and state
   government
   have too often
   passed the
   buck.
 
Facilities Officers, who,
touring the UMass-
Amherst campus,
found conditions so
substandard as to be
detrimental to recruit-
ing and retaining new
students and faculty'?
For five years the uni-
versity deferred, main-
tenance because of re-
duced state funding.
 
When pols in Wash-
ington say the states
and communities know
better than the feds
how to help their own people, could they be referring to
Connecticut Gov. John Rowland's suggested 25 percent
cut in welfare programs or New York City Mayor Rudy
Giuliani's proposed slashing of education, welfare, sanita-
tion and health care programs?
 
A quick historic note may be in order.  The reason the
feds have traditionally stepped in with programs and
mandates is because local and state government have too
often passed the buck, whether it was to clean up pollut-
ed waterways or provide access for the disabled to public
transportation. Time and again, state and local govern-
ments have been found lacking in the disciplines of com-
petence, foresight, responsibility and even honesty.
 
For almost two years, Weymouth officials have been
investigating allegations of fiscal hanky-panky. Recently
a federal jury convicted a Revere man of taking illegal
proceeds from video poker machines and delivering the
dough to two city officials, now both retired. And former
Middlesex County sheriff John McGonigle has been sen-
tenced to 57 months in the can for running a kickback
racket.
 
Weymouth is a town; Revere is a city; Middlesex is a
county. You can't get more local than all of those.
 
Perhaps the mythmakers in Washington were think-
ing of Bucks County, Pa., where a grand jury has
charged that a school district official steered lucrative
school repair contracts to friends and associates in re-
turn for cash and favors.
 
Or maybe they were thinking of Johnston, R.I.,
where three former town of ficials have been convicted of
soliciting bribes and two developers have pleaded guiltv
for their participation in a scheme to bribe town officials
permits.
 
There is no question that the average New England
selectman or some Midwestern town official is closer to
the neighbors than most Washington bureaucrats. But
proximity does not necessarily equal competence or re-
sponsibility. Indeed, the cloxer elected officials are to
their constituencies, the more frightened they are of
those same citizens.
 
If there is one bond that unites village government in
upstate New York with town government in New Eng-
land and county government down south or out west, it is
the fear of raising taxes, of telling voters that governing
costs money.
 
For years, local and state governments passed the
buck to Washington. Now Washington wants to pass it
back. Has anyone noticed that we are starting to run out
of governments ready and able to take on the responsi-
bility of governing?
 
Allan Lupo is a member of the Globe staff.
 
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