Garry Gamble

Anyone who attended the recent “Truth-in-Taxation” meeting witnessed firsthand three-dimensional government in action. I’m not referring to a 3D 2018 proposed budget film presentation— although there appeared times when images from the bench bore striking similarities to those of a 3D motion picture that enhances the illusion of depth perception. I’m focusing my lens, literally, on 3 D’s: Disregard— disillusion—despair.

No special eyewear was required to observe the standardized meeting format that relegates attendees into brusque submission—one wonders why inherently good folk subject themselves to such theatrics.

If you ever had occasion, during your early formative school years, to grovel into the principal’s office under somewhat tormenting circumstances, you know what I’m talking about.

It could be different... however, it’s not. There always seems to be an edginess, born out of mistrust, when you enter the arena of public commentary. There is no question it encumbers any authentic communication as authenticity implies both sides are willing to allow themselves to be vulnerable.

Hard to be any more vulnerable than when your economic stability rests in the hands of those who are so enamored with their own opinions that they remain rigid not only in thought but also in body language.

It’s easy to disregard what others may have to say, to turn a deaf ear, while at the same time feign a smile for public consumption.

We’ve listened to the halting voices of many of our fellow community members who have rallied their fragile confidence to provide context and counsel to commissioners during public comment periods; only to encounter indifference, also acknowledged as disregard.

Disregard inevitably slides precipitously toward disillusion when someone does not want to actively listen to what you have to say. Especially, when that someone has been elected to represent you. You think they would value your perspective? (Involuntary “scratch of the head” at this point.)

Need evidence that local citizens hold this to be true? Here are a sampling of written comments from the recent taxpayer survey: (I should interject here, regarding the publishing of Phase 2 & 3 of the recent Cook County Taxpayer Survey findings, due to the volume of display ads for this issue of the News-Herald, the additional findings will be published in next week’s December 9th issue.)

“It does not seem like our county officials are listening or hear what the citizens are saying.” And another: “Our Cook County representatives do not listen to the people or care to exhibit fiscal responsibility, for sure.”

And yet another, rather telling examination: “Commissioners seem polarized and driven more by egos than objective thought/decisions.”

When elected officials clearly depart from following the will of their constituents to willing their constituents to follow their—the “servant” of the people’s—own prerogatives, it ceases to be representative governance and instead has morphed into something else.

I’m afraid we are witnessing that “something else,” which has accelerated the migration from disillusion to despair.

The thing about despair is that it is advanced through pretension: prescription talking points, predetermined messaging that bears no connection, other than to placate, with what a person—who has just bared their soul—has just said. Unfortunately, finding a comfortable place to park an oft-repeated response, does little to engage. Parroted responses from public officials are more likely to enrage.

For those who would claim I am overly dramatic, let me put a face on despair; again, from survey written responses:

“We can no longer afford to live in the home we build with our own hands. The increase in our tax burden has forced us to put it up for sale. We have only our social security income to live on, because of the disregard for our economic status we are now forced to watch every penny.”

“How to pay the...taxes. Commissioners need to say, “NO” about spending. One of us works for Cook County. Commissioners are out of control on spending. We are going to have to move because we can’t afford the outrageous tax increases.”

“My property taxes have more than doubled since moving to Grand Marais in 2009. The County board seems to have no problem justifying double-digit increases due to uncontrolled spending, hiring, building.”

“Since we are retired, having enough money to pay bills and keep our cabin are the greatest concerns. It does not appear that the current county commissioners are in touch with the interests of property owners.”

“County overspending and commissioners not listening to the people who have voted them into the office in the first place” is the single greatest economic concern facing our family.

“Soon we will not be able to live here. Our two kids left and have no desire to return. Taxes are too high for our kids that are left [remain].”

“My husband is handicapped, and we are truly living on a fixed income. Looking at outside of Cook County because of poor taxation decisions.”

“Will not be able to live here soon. I wish I would never have purchased property in Cook County.”

The harsh reality is that it would almost be irresponsible for some, whose families have lived in Cook County for generations, to not think about moving, given the incautious fiscal proposals of present decision-makers.

American economist turned social theorist and political philosopher, Thomas Sowell, suggests, “The first lesson of economics is scarcity: there is never enough of anything to fully satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.”

To Cook County’s detriment, we are presently steeped in “politics.” It’s draining; not only of our energies and the best of our resources but also our population.

I call your attention to a recent November 27th article that appeared in Bloomberg Politics, “Tax-Hike Fears Trigger Talk of Exodus From Manhattan and Greenwich.”

Authors Simone Foxman, Patrick Clark, and Sridhar Natarajan note that proposed tax changes are practically begging disgruntled taxpayers to become refugees. “Inertia is a tough thing, but you add on another tax bill, and maybe that pushes you over the edge.”

Recall my September 9th column, “A Tale of Two Counties”? It contrasted a spendthrift county vs. frugal country folk.

I’ll let you select the appropriate label for local application, and we will see which one “sticks.”

Consider this while you’re contemplating, the projected statewide sum of all county tax levies for 2018 is presently projected to go up as much as 4.7 percent, according to the Minnesota Department of Revenue’s analysis of preliminary property tax levies.

On the other end of the spectrum, Cook County’s proposed tax levy for 2018 is nearly 20 percent. Highest in the state...another first to add to our pedigree as the coolest, the most unique, the county that prides itself on living “outside the box.”

We’re uncommonly noteworthy, alright.

If commissioners don’t start listening to those who voted them into office, they can be guaranteed their actions won’t be met with disregard when it comes to the next election for citizens seeking true representation.

Present commissioners will soon find themselves living “outside the box.”

Former Cook County Commissioner Garry Gamble is writing this ongoing column about the various ways government works.

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