Our Founding Fathers believed that citizens of this country have a responsibility to participate in government.

Whether it’s attending a meeting to gain information, discuss issues or lend support, writing letters to elected representatives, running for office, or voting, citizen involvement is a critical ingredient.

Democracy by its very definition means government by the people. A democracy’s livelihood rests on meaningful contacts between the people and their government.

If you choose not to participate, then you have little right to complain about actions of your local city council, school board, county commission, state legislature or even Congress.

The lack of public participation can lead to detrimental action.

Recently the Bureau of Reclamation held several public meetings to gather input on what a resource management plan for the Belle Fourche Reservoir should contain. The public meetings were promoted by the bureau in newsletters, emails, newspaper announcements, and more, but there was little public participation or attendance.

One proposed action on the draft management plan was to close the off-road vehicle area at the reservoir.

At a second meeting, only 29 people attended and only 20 written comments were received. Little input was given during the entire process about the ORV area.

Thus, the decision to close it was made. Once the bureau’s plan is finalized and is released to the public, citizens have a 30- to 45-day period to read the bureau’s plan and send additional written comments back directly to the bureau.

In this instance, those opposed to the closure of the ORV area took to social media and tried to gather support through an online petition. But unfortunately this does little to sway the government as it is not an officially recognized way to provide input.

Conversely, attending public meetings and providing direct comments is greatly beneficial to the decision-making process.

Earlier this month, more than 100 citizens attended a meeting at the rural Union Center school in Meade County to learn more about the possibility of the Meade School District splitting into two districts.

It was refreshing to see civil discourse at its finest. Attendees were asked to submit questions which were read and then answered by the appropriate person.

People came to the meeting wanting to learn more about what launching a new rural school district would entail and the left armed with probably more information that they could have imagined on which to base their opinion on the matter.

In a recent newsletter article to members of the Sturgis Area Chamber of Commerce, Chamber Executive Director Veronica Grosek talked about tuning into your local government.

She said that it is no surprise that at any given local government meeting, the attendance tends to be on the sparse side, especially attendance by youth.

“This is bad news for our communities! We are all frustrated with the state of national politics and the collective lack of understanding of current events, not to mention social, economic, and other issues. The first step to turning this problem around is to tune-in locally, attend city council meetings or check out what the county commission is all about.”

Being a good citizen demands that you pay attention to the issues at hand and the decisions being made. Do this and you’ll have a better community, better government, and better nation.

And how many times have we seen someone complain on Facebook about something the city council or county commission did, but neglected to call a member of that board or agency, or attend a meeting concerning a certain issue?

We are fortunate to live in a country where we are allowed to participate in our government, and that our opinion really does matter.

So be informed by subscribing to your local newspaper, get off the couch, put down your smartphone, and participate in this thing we call democracy.

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