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Is Unanimous Government A Good Thing?

As a person interested in local government I recently read three years worth of the Town of Tonawanda, NY board minutes (population 78,000). I was shocked to learn how rare it is for a board member to vote “No” on an item. From 2008-2010 the Tonawanda Town Board voted on 3,179 items and during this three year period there were only 11 instances where any Town Board member voted “No”! While the five member Tonawanda Town Board are all Democrats, it still surprises me there were 3,168 unanimous items and only 11 items with a “No” vote.

The Buffalo News recently pointed out that newly elected Lancaster, NY(population 39,000) Town Supervisor “…did something out of the ordinary: he voted “No” on a resolution.” How unusual is this? Not a single “No” vote was cast in all of 2011. In fact the last previous “No” vote occurred in May 2010.

I don’t believe that government should be about dysfunctional fighting, but years of unanimous “Yes” votes are troubling as well.

Websters Dictionary defines “unanimous” as: being of one mind, having the agreement and consent of all. I understand that most local government items are pretty routine and mundane but some debate, dissension or disagreement can be a good thing at times.

When elected officials run for office they typically claim that they are going to change things in their community. People who push change encounter resistance, if there aren’t any “No” votes occurring in your community, perhaps new ideas and change are not being pushed enough?

Is Unanimous government a good thing?

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Profile Photo Corey McCarren

Unanimity is fine if the “yes” votes are justified through rigorous discussion and debate. If it’s simple groupthink and apathy then it is absolutely not okay. There’s no way that a board which is always unanimous is looking into every possible outcome of an issue. When I was in my college’s Student Association, I would often see groupthink happen and it drove me crazy. There were times that I thought someone was completely wrong, but I’d have a lot of respect for them if they discussed the issue then voted a different way because they really thought about it. Meetings can be boring and long, but if you aren’t willing to sit through it without rushing you shouldn’t be at the table.

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