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Scenario 1: Municipal Decision Making - The Public Will and Representative Democracy

Scenario 1: Municipal Decision Making - The Public Will and Representative Democracy

This video was recorded at MIT 11.969 Workshop on Deliberative Democracy and Dispute Resolution - Summer 2005. A local government decides that it wants to "consult" citizens more directly before a critical long-term development decision is made (regarding the investment of a substantial amount of public money). The dispute centers on the appropriateness of filling mapped wetlands so that a new highway spur connecting the city to the nearby interstate can be built. As usual the battle lines have been drawn between environmentalists who oppose filling the wetlands and development interests who say that the roadway is the key to revitalizing the declining city economy. Elected officials are deciding who to include in the consultation and how to include them. One faction wants the mayor to pick a blue ribbon advisory committee to formulate suggested city policies and priorities governing wetland protection (above and beyond federal and state laws). Another wants to run a set of public hearings once the experts selected by the city have prepared a detailed plan for the roadway. A third proposes a non-binding referendum. A fourth wants a consensus building process that would involve all relevant stakeholder groups (and let them nominate their own representatives). This consensus building process would involve a fairly large group of stakeholders in generating detailed plans for the site as well as local wetland protection polices. The focus is on whether and how to supplement the work of representative democracy at the local level. Are more "direct" forms of democracy "better?" Should major community-wide decisions be made only after some form of public deliberation precedes formal governmental action? If so, how should the options for supplementing the work of elected and appointed officials be evaluated? How might a municipally-authorized consensus building process be run, particularly with regard to the selection of participants? If the product of an ad hoc consultative process is not binding on elected and appointed officials, what is the incentive for potential participants to "come to the table?"

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