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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Tiger attack claims life of public hearing

Posted By on Tue, Jan 22, 2008 at 5:56 PM


This is only one of the kinds of dumb animals that city hall likes to exploit

by Benjamin Wachs

Tatiana the tiger may not be getting a headstone, but she will serve as one to her final victim: the public hearing.

She, and the mayor, killed it as a useful tool of government.

Last week the Mayor held a public hearing on the tiger attack, and the public showed up … the San Francisco public will ALWAYS show up if they think there will be a microphone … and the Chronicle and the Guardian both took the event seriously enough not to ask the most basic question: what the hell was the Mayor doing?

What was it supposed to accomplish? Gauge the public’s complicated “feelings” on tiger attacks? Seriously? Or was it to get public input on how to run the zoo? Because the public is just so good at things like that.

“In the end,” wrote the Chronicle, “the hearing mostly gave the public a chance to express thoughts on the incident and the overall zoo management …”

Yeah? So what?

Is anybody happy there was a tiger attack? Does anybody who thinks the zoo’s well run have credibility? Why, exactly, do we need to hear from the public on this one? What possible pearls of wisdom could the people offer?

The Mayor’s high profile public hearing was so spectacularly pointless that when I called up city spokesman Nathan Ballard and asked one simple question: “What was accomplished?” I wasn’t given an answer. The city didn’t even try to bullshit something up - they had nothing.

There was a time when public hearings served a useful democratic function, helping inform elected officials about the direction the public wanted government to go. But now, dancing on a tiger’s corpse, Mayor Newsom has proven there’s nothing left but cynicism. Instead of soliciting the public for relevant opinions … just how much does the public care about our homeless problem? How draconian do they want police tactics to get fighting violent crime? … he provides a circus so irrelevant that his own press flacks won’t try to justify it. How do you feel about wild animals getting loose and mauling people? Are you against it? Share - your government needs to know.

But it grabs headlines (suckers) and everybody gets a chance to be outraged on TV (suckers).

Some government officials look like they’ve been embarrassed by the mayor (suckers), who’s already had all the relevant conversations in private. And Gavin Newsom scores his favorite kind of victory – the pyrrhic kind. The kind where government spends an awful lot of time and money caring but not actually helping anyone.

The public hearing is dead, and Tatiana the tiger and poor Carlos Sousa Jr. mark the spot where it happened.

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Benjamin Wachs


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