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The Federalist Diaries

 

Walks outside the Box, Part 6

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.
George Bernard Shaw, Irish literary critic, playwright and essayist,
1925 Nobel Prize for Literature, 1856-1950

“Walks outside the Box” is about finding solutions when others shrug their shoulders, despair or offer palliatives.  In part 5, we explored the introduction of “community watchdogs”.  In this part, we look at how to implement a watchdog program. 

Before we start, we need to address a concern.  “Community watchdog” sounds like a euphemism for “vigilante”, which has a negative connotation in our society.  If properly structured, a watchdog program would not stray into the realm of vigilantes. 

How would we set up the program? 

·        The first step would be for the community to identify its priorities:  graffiti?  traffic safety?  methamphetamines?  litter?  homelessness?  code enforcement?  global warming?  health?  poverty?  employment?  fraud?  identity theft? 

·        The second step would be to determine who could become watchdogs:  retirees?  working adults?  teenagers?  children?  Each could play a role, although some roles would be appropriate only for certain age groups. 

·        The third step would be to figure out how to collect information:  cellular telephone?  telephone?  Web site?  auto-dialer?  door to door? 

·        The fourth step would be to plan how to announce the program and communicate findings:  cellular telephone?  telephone?  Web site?  auto-dialer?  door to door? 

·        The fifth step would be to deliberate on who should know of the findings: a nongovernmental organizations?  government?  neighbors?  This can be tricky.  To avoid entering the realm of vigilantes, we would want government involved, but if we involved government, others would raise a concern about government intrusion and possible violations of the Bill of Rights.  (You see how we can box ourselves into a corner and be paralyzed with inaction?  Revisit “Walks outside the Box, Part 1”, April 19, 2007, for a way out of this conundrum.) 

·        The sixth step—and this is important in distinguishing our program from that of vigilantes—would be to decide on what we would do about the violations and problems which we found:  an advisory letter to the violator?  an alternative, sustainable solution to that prescribed by law, which might include an optional, nongovernmental process, chosen by the violator in lieu of a judicial process?  perhaps a menu of alternative solutions?  enforcement of the law? 

A key factor would be the affordability and, consequently, sustainability of our watchdog program.  It is important that the program function effectively at little or no cost to taxpayers.  One way—not the only way—that this could happen would be for government staff to become trainers and overseers, while residents voluntarily carried out the program.  The downside to that would be that government staff would discourage outside-the-box thinking.   

If compensation came to residents, which might well be necessary for a successful program, it would be through payments which violators had consented to pay.  (Two footnotes here.  First, see the community lesson entitled “Is It Legal to Print Money?  Yes.” for one way to compensate volunteers.  Second, consider that a payment by a violator might be classified as a “contribution to a community improvement fund”, instead of a “fine” or “penalty”, in order to overcome reluctance and resistance.)  

May 24, 2007

 

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