Bob Geary, resident of Raleigh’s District D and member of the Wake County Housing Justice Coalition, delivered the following remarks at the City Council meeting on September 7:

Mayor and Council, I want to recommend a fascinating book called “Open Democracy: Popular Rule for the 21st Century.” It’s by Helene Landemore, a professor at Yale.

Landemore’s premise is that we face a “crisis of democracy,” because our system of government is not, in fact, democratic.

It is, rather, oligarchic, dominated by special interests and wealthy elites.

People are repulsed, and for good reason, because the candidates they elect — after promising to serve them — instead serve the rich.

Unfortunately, this is all too relevant to Raleigh.

Landemore calls for reform — for “open democracy” — based on 5 key principles:

  1. Participation Rights
  2. Deliberation
  3. Transparency
  4. Majority Rule, and
  5. small d, Democratic Representation

The public, she says, has a right to participate directly in the governmental decisions that affect them.

They have a right to know what government is doing; they have a right to deliberate with one another and with elected officials as to best solutions; they have a right to have these deliberations be transparent …

… they have a right to majority rule — since the alternative, and the prevailing paradigm in our country, is rule by the few with the most money.

“If government by the people is the goal,” her argument goes, “the people ought to be doing the governing.”

The 5th principle, Democratic Representation, derives from the others. It is that voters should be able to know, when voting, which candidates are on their side.

City government in Raleigh, sadly, fails on all 5 fronts.

Here, participation by citizens is severely limited. Our government is run by a manager and staff. Deliberations are internal. Public forums are few. Our elected officials, instead of bridging the divide between staff and the public, are keeping citizens away.

In the past, we had 18 Citizen Advisory Councils, where elected officials, staff and the public would deliberate together.

That system is in tatters thanks to this Council’s decision to gut the CACs.

Transparency? You cut off the CACs with no advance notice.

Our Elections? Postponed 13 months, and runoff elections actually eliminated.

And again, the decision was made in secret, with zero public participation.

Zoning and rezoning decisions? All done in the back room.

Today, you heard a task force hand-picked by you recommend that you be paid more and stay in office longer.

That might make sense for a Council that spent time with the public, practicing open democracy.

But for this Council, it reads like a reward for shutting the public out.

Bob Geary, Raleigh Resident