When your family has a budget crisis, where do you sit down to solve it? Most likely at the kitchen table.
It’s a place where you all have a comfortable seat, there’s space to spread out all the necessary information, and a sense that you’re all facing the problem together.
So the Curry County commissioners are trying to set up the rest of us in Curry County with the Oregon’s Kitchen Table project. The hope is that, through this kind of democracy, we can all join in on the discussion of what needs to happen with county finances and expenditures.
In case anyone’s forgotten, Curry County is short $3 million a year to continue operating at what everyone involved describes as a “bare bones” level. If you need an example of the next budget cuts, just look at the virtual closure of the sheriff’s department in neighboring Josephine County.
Oregon’s Kitchen Table project is an experimental program out of Portland State University. It invites anyone who can log onto its website (http://oregonskitchentable.org) to “sit down” to review policy choices and then offer their opinion. It is, at its base, an effort at participatory democracy; it tries to present trusted information that anyone involved can in turn use to make informed choices.
Of course there are limitations, just as there were with the county’s Citizens Committee effort. Not everyone is able to attend online, not everyone who gets involved will believe the information, not everyone will make their opinion based on the information presented, and any kind of “agreement” at the “kitchen table” is not the same kind of legal action that will be needed at the ballot box.
But if Oregon’s Kitchen Table can bring hard information to more people in order to create both understanding and action to the financial problems facing Curry County, that would be great. And it will be less costly and more flexible than an up-down vote on a new tax proposal.
We need to solve this issue, and solve it ourselves. A “kitchen table” style discussion seems like an encouraging path toward a decision.