A democratic facade surrounds the landfill discussion

If you have been following the issue of the possible landfill expansion here in DeKalb County, then maybe you have experienced the same feeling I have: the democratic façade is alive and well.  Like many local citizens, I sense that officials are simply going through the motions of giving ‘the people’ the impression their concerns matter when the endpoint has already been determined, i.e. the decision has already been made to expand even if the vote has not yet taken place.

Consider the recent public hearing held at Kishwaukee College.  Waste Management of Illinois, Inc. brought in a handful of paid, expert witnesses who testified that expansion of the facility will not compromise our quality of life since a number of established legal criteria have been met.  Furthermore, the company’s attorney emphasized how all of the information its witnesses provided are “facts”, not opinion.

While local citizens like Dan Kenney and Mac McIntyre have done an outstanding job voicing opposition to the proposal, I have to question the county’s procedural approach.  After all, independent witnesses who have studied landfills at length – witnesses who might offer data that contradict what the company told committee members, did not testify at the public hearing.  This is highly problematic.  Even if county officials consult other experts later, the discussion has already been framed by a major corporation that is interested in profit above all else.

Now, you might be thinking: “At least concerned citizens were able to attend and participate in the hearing, and that’s what makes the United States a great country.”  Well, I would argue that in many cases, allowing members of the public to express themselves in this particular context (and others like it) is really intended to placate people, not have them directly influence policy.  Hence, it is a democratic façade of sorts.

Unfortunately, the worst byproduct of this façade is that the public trust erodes over time because segments of the electorate develop the perception that no matter what they say or do, elected officials make decisions that are contrary to their interests.  At this point, I encourage everyone to call and email your county board member to express your disapproval of not only the landfill expansion, but also their approach to this process.

A version of this piece appeared in the Daily Chronicle on March 20, 2010.

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