• Title: Public Response Can Still Be an Important Asset
  • Author: Eliot Singer
  • Date: 11/16/2017
  • Additional Categories: Recent Essays, Eliot Singer

Public Response Can Still Be an Important Asset

I am still saddened by Jim’s death, though we had very different views on many issues. I do think it would be good for the community to keep Public Response alive in his absence. But that means new voices need to speak out on local political topics, and not just at elections.

For more than a decade, Public Response was the only outlet for those who did not buy into the propaganda that East Lansing had this wonderful government that could do no wrong. It served both the need for investigative reporting, since LSJ proved unwilling and unable to do so, and for opinion, its original function. The failure of LSJ to do its job is pretty much summed up by the time they referenced something I had exposed on PR as “news wire sources.”

East Lansing Information has now taken on the role of reporting on East Lansing, including investigative reporting. There may still be times where that should be augmented (I have always felt it important to talk technically on topics where that is necessary, even if only some readers understand).

However, ELi has chosen not to do editorials or letters to the editor. These are also important for a free press, including sometimes satire, which is often the most effective way of making an important point, in the grand tradition of Twain, Mencken, Dorothy Parker, and so on. (How can you not poke of No Bonds Bob staking his reputation on something.) Nextdoor has a wide readership, but many seem uncomfortable with that for discussing politics, though frankly anyone who doesn’t want to engage with local political issues deserves to pay high taxes for poor public services.

So, if Matt wants to keep PR going, it is the appropriate institution for discussing local political and economic issues, even if sometimes this breaks the norms of politeness that, to steal from my old friend Joel Mabus, are “hopelessly Midwestern.” But in order for this to happen, people need to be willing to talk about topics. Some of the old-timers, including myself, are now ex-pats, though we still follow the local issues. The best way to affect local decision making is to speak out in a public forum, not just at meetings, because public opinion is what frightens the political establishment (though far from as much as it should).

From a distance, I am really amazed at how tone-death city hall continues to be, but also that no one seems to chastise it. I have no doubt the defeat of the income tax was because a substantial number of people who normally vote for taxes did not trust the city to spend money wisely, after the tens of millions of dollars that have been misspent pursuing “the next great city in the Midwest” with phony money. But unless people speak out, city hall will do the same old same old: nothing is every our fault, blame special interests buying the election (forgetting that special interests have owned city hall for decades), blame state government for not forking over more money (without admitting costly mistakes or undertaking reforms), blame MSU for not forking over money (even though the attempt to do that was clearly mishandled).

I left town a year and a half ago. I told people then that if there were no new activist voices, East Lansing would return to a city government that served its own, and special interests. I am starting to make a few salvos in my new abode, mostly using East Lansing’s disastrous record on public-private development as a warning, including the point that if you use tax breaks as a first resort not a last resort you will alienate voters who will then not give you more money.

I really hope people in East Lansing will take on the role that I and a handful of others played. I have always enjoyed calling myself an outside agitator, as a joke. But inside agitators are more effective.

Eliot Singer