Public meeting on Main Street re-striping is a good thing

Published 8:28 pm Wednesday, August 21, 2019


The Advocate-Messenger

Multiple elected officials have asked why it’s necessary for the state to hold a public meeting and allow public comments about the Danville Main Street re-striping project. They might as well be asking why the sky has to be blue.

Email newsletter signup

At all levels, our government is elected by the people it represents to handle public business. The government is accountable to the people, not the other way around — that’s about as fundamental to American representative democracy as it gets.

So any time the government holds a public meeting and invites public input, that’s a good thing. It gives leaders the opportunity to hear perspectives they hadn’t considered before. It ensures the government isn’t just doing what it wants without regard for its bosses. And it lends legitimacy to the decisions made by leaders after they have listened to those who would be affected.

In this case, the state Transportation Cabinet re-striped Danville’s Main Street between Second and Fifth streets, creating single lanes in each direction for through traffic and dedicated turning lanes at each intersection. The state re-striped in advance of a resurfacing project, so the new lane configuration could be tested and studied, then kept after the test period if it didn’t create problems.

The state mishandled a similar project before that ended catastrophically. While we could nit-pick about some things this time around, we have to applaud the general process — using a test period, not a mandate; and following up in a transparent way with a public meeting scheduled for Sept. 5.

So why in the world do many local elected officials want the public meeting canceled? According to their public statements last week, it’s because they think they know better than the public and giving everyday residents input would just confuse things.

Welcome to democracy. Leaders don’t get to do things the easy, authoritarian way by putting their foot down. We do things in harder, messier, fairer ways that maintain the rights of every one of us to be involved in our own governance.

Does that mean a vocal minority, possibly armed with skewed stats or misleading data, could try to railroad things at a public meeting? Yes. But while the Constitution guarantees vocal minorities can make their case, nowhere does it say you have to give them what they want.

Officials opposed to the public meeting claim they know what their constituents want. If that’s the case, why are they scared of a public meeting? If you know what your constituents want, you won’t be surprised by what they have to say. And if you know that the views of a few are disproportionately represented at the public meeting, you can say so and throw your weight in support of the quieter majority.

At best, these elected officials were trying to sidestep further conversation on what’s been a controversial topic and move on to other matters at hand. At worst, they’re tired to trying to mesh public opinion with the reality of governing and wanted to take a shortcut through less democratic channels.

Either way, they’re completely wrong.