Accountability and the importance of working together emerged as key themes at the March 18 “Speak Up California” event in Merced.
Co-hosts included United Way of Merced County and Merced Ahead. While improving education was a dominant topic — whether it was sharing personal stories or discussing current policies and finances – the overriding theme was accountability. One group offered the idea of “report cards” to evaluate what works and what doesn’t.
Reforming government may seem daunting, but it’s not impossible. Jesse Brown, executive director of the Merced County Association of Governments, pointed out a prime example of individual agencies collaborating for a common good: the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. Eight valley counties work together to improve air quality.
“I’ve seen a number of examples in the past,” Brown said. “If you can get rid of the turf that everybody is out there to protect, you can do things a little bit better.”
Participants also stressed the importance of information; not only that government should provide more but that citizens should equally commit to being better informed. Others talked about accountability at a personal level: staying engaged with their families and communities.
Participants pondered the ramifications of “local control” if the state cedes more authority to communities. Luis De La Cruz, managing editor of Between Friends/Entre Amigos, cautioned that “local control sounds great until you start controlling locally – and who controls.”
Kathy Hassett, director of Merced County Child Support Services, said after the session that her interest there was “to make sure everybody is in a listening mode and that they’re tolerant of different perspectives.”
That way, she said, “we can look at where we want to be and how to get there together with a common vision.”