Other Voices: There’s nothing wrong with special interests

Special interests. Secrecy. Who is really running things? Those buzz words abound in our election discussions. They are not very useful.

We all have interests, and they are all special. If we share those interests with others, we are a group. Some groups are more outspoken than others. None of that is bad. Trouble arises when we associate the concept of a special-interest group with something evil. The groups are not bad, nor are the interests in themselves bad or good for Los Altos.

The electorate is not, cannot be, nor should it have to be fully informed on all the issues facing our city. Outspoken special-interest groups bring to our, the electorate’s, attention issues about which that group has strong opinions. I appreciate that. I do not have to agree with the group’s position.

Let us look at the specifics of the issue before us, and not condemn or praise it because of who brought it to our attention.

The difficulties of dealing with an already poorly informed electorate are compounded by secrecy requirements imposed on city government. By law, the city may not discuss matters of employment. By prudent legal practice, matters in litigation cannot be discussed publicly. That is a huge area of secrecy over which governments have no control. It is unfortunate and it does no good to argue about it.

There is a critical mass of people beyond which a few will do the work – the others will watch, at best. I have seen that happen in groups of six people, and it happens invariably in groups of 10 or more. It is an unavoidable pattern in representative forms of government. We are governed by an oligarchy – a few people doing most of the work.

That is not automatically bad, particularly when the oligarchy knows it is being watched. What is terribly counterproductive is when the members of the oligarchy are accused of malfeasance on the grounds of being a part of the oligarchy.

These are the people doing the work! We can certainly disagree with what they do, but it is both counterproductive and harmful to allege that they are dishonest, then cite as proof only the fact that they are among the few who are getting things done.

Los Altos is confronting serious problems. It is reasonable and proper that we should disagree about how to respond. Our discussions will be more productive if we can avoid buzz words that substitute for detailed thinking. Disagreement is an opportunity for new ideas to develop. Let us honor the process.

Leelane E. Hines is a Los Altos resident.

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