Guest Column: Why can’t all government be like this? Maybe it can, with ‘Social Impact Statements’

By Tom Lindblade

These days, “proactive,” “responsive” and “honorable” are not words very often used in relation to any level of government, much less to our state government in Springfield. But that has been my recent experience, and I think because of all the negative things we hear about, it might be nice — for once — to hear about government doing things the way they should be done.

For many years, I have worked as an advocate for paddlers. During most of that time, we have not had a close relationship with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Getting heard has been a continuing problem. The DNR would make up a rule that had obvious strong implications for paddlers and other groups, but would not ask those most affected what we thought about it.

I won’t go into detail here, but that unwillingness to communicate has cost taxpayers millions of dollars in wasted time and effort.

One example, from a few years ago, was a dam safety rule, written by the DNR, which was so badly conceived, without any input from paddlers and fishermen (two obvious groups having a lot of experience of learning how to stay safe around dams), that after years of effort, it finally had to be completely abandoned. There are many other examples.

But since the 2009 appointment by Gov. Pat Quinn (D) of Marc Miller as director of the Illinois DNR (IDNR), things began to change, and the IDNR became more responsive to all of its user groups — to the point that we recently were all supportive of additional funding from our pockets to support the vital role of the IDNR. This would never have happened previously.

Now, a recent example of how things have changed and of what good government can be like…

About six weeks ago, I picked up the phone, and it was Marc Miller asking if I would help to set up a meeting with the leaders of the paddling community to see if we could resolve some of the issues that have divided us over the years. I, of course, was delighted to do so, and Marc turned me over to his chief of staff, Todd Main, to help plan the meeting and a process for the resolution of mutual concerns.

Todd has been wonderful to work with, helping us to formulate a list of concerns and then giving his word that he would follow through on a process leading (we hope) to their resolution. We are not done yet, and may not be for a long time, but as long as we have people like Marc and Todd in place who ask for input and make a good-faith effort to incorporate that feedback, I am confident we will continue to be heard.

Individuals come and go, things will change, and of course, not all elements of our state government are willing to risk seriously listening to their constituents, which is why I am beginning to advocate for what I call Social Impact Statements (SIS), which would require every element of our state government to file an SIS, just like many must already file an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). In the case of an SIS, the agency involved would have to show that it had sought out knowledgeable groups and individuals, and made a good-faith effort to incorporate that feedback into any major project or legislation. Write your legislator if you like this idea.

Tom Lindblade of Rockford is past president of the Illinois Paddling Council.

From the Oct. 23-29, 2013, issue

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