By Jennifer Karius
I have attended many county legislative meetings to better understand the governing body I hope to join, as Will Burbank departs from District 12. One such evening, as I said hello to a group of homeless people in Dewitt Park and entered the stately legislative chamber, I was struck by the stark contrast. The disparity between those who govern and those who are governed is still with us.
Anyone who serves on the county Legislature needs to remember this every time they deliberate and decide on the county’s massive budget – around $179 million proposed for this coming year – and its role in overseeing 38 offices and departments aimed at one common good: The residents of Tompkins County and the future to which we all aspire.
The remainder of my campaign will focus on modeling my role as a potential representative: A strong and independent voice that brings together those who may not otherwise be involved in the governing process. This is what I have done for the past 15 years while advocating and engaging people in conversations about fairness, and promoting campaigns and actions towards better public policy.
In our form of government, fairness is seen as rooted in democracy – a voice for everyone, not just the privileged, loudest or most dominating. We need to include more voices in county government, as government works best when differing views and interests are a part of the conversation.
Even though we live in one of the more economically robust upstate counties, we are not immune to the challenging new times. Every day, many of us get a step or two closer to losing access to basic needs of health and home. I have held several District 12 meetings to discuss people’s experiences with inequity and the related drug use and deaths, as well as the struggles in raising a family and transitioning towards aging – particularly in low to middle income ranges – and the supportive services that can provide for a thriving community.
We are a collegiate community that likes research and debate. However, we also need to move from study to action and find ways to work together as individuals, organizations, and local government bodies to protect and strengthen our unique assets. We have our lake and water resources on which much of our health, economic future and quality of life rest. Our local economy, while strong, can become more resilient and better accommodate all abilities. Our residents need to receive a fair value for the taxes they pay so they are encouraged to stay and we do not deter newcomers. We need to break the divide between town and gown and forge new solutions to buffer our middle class in these new turbulent and challenging times.
We need to look at ourselves and be the community we know in our hearts that we are.
We are all just a step away.
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Jennifer Karius is a candidate for the Tompkins County Legislature’s District 12 seat.
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