And Close To Home…

A reader recently sent me a story from the Brownsburg Sentinel that illustrates the importance of local media–and at the same time, suggests its limitations in an age where so many of us have lost the very concept of  community and citizenship . Evidently, Americans are fixated on national news and/or America’s vicious culture wars, or–in the alternative–are unconcerned about their local governments, or are amusing themselves on social media…

The Sentinel covered two consecutive meetings of the Brownsburg Town Council, the second of which included the Council’s dissolution of the Brownsburg Park Board–a board that had served the residents of Brownsburg since 1959.

Prior to the first of those two meetings, the Council had published an agenda including the dissolution item; the day before the meeting, it eliminated that item from the agenda.

Town Council President Travis Tschaenn also refused questions from a resident on the ownership and modification of the council agenda. He had the resident escorted away from lectern and temporarily removed from the venue by a Brownsburg Police officer.

According to the Sentinel, the Parks board was informed of the impending dissolution late on the Friday prior to the Council meeting. The Sentinel also reported that approximately $368,000 in grant funding, intended for the construction of a local Park, would be jeopardized should the park board be dissolved.

The newspaper also reported on a lack of any evidence that Travis Tschaenn or anyone on the Council had conducted an investigation into the short and long term financial impact of such a dissolution, and that Tschaenn has refused to respond to multiple inquires  or to otherwise explain his conduct in this matter.

In the second of the two Council meetings, with virtually no discussion or fanfare, the Brownsburg Parks Board was dissolved.

Because the story at the link was formatted differently than most online newspapers (it included a number of videos posted to You Tube), I was curious to learn more about the Sentinel. An email exchange with the editor/publisher led to a lunch and fascinating conversation.

It turns out that the Sentinel began publication a couple of years after another local newspaper was discontinued (the publisher of that weekly newspaper died.) It is essentially the “hobby” of its current editor/publisher, David Weyant, and reaches several thousand of the some 50,000 residents in and around Brownsburg.

Weyant said he could only speculate about the motivation for eliminating the local Parks Board.  (The “official” reason–too much unnecessary bureaucracy–didn’t pass the smell test.) An Indianapolis development company is said to have its eye on a well-located parcel currently being used as a park…but there is no confirmatory evidence of that theory.

What isn’t speculative was the lack of public participation in the process, despite the coverage provided by the Sentinel.

Weyant told me that some ten years ago, during a fight over proposed annexation, hundreds of local residents had appeared and participated at public hearings. By the time the Council turned its attention to the Parks Board, most members of the community had stopped showing interest in the only ways that matter–appearing and speaking at public meetings and/or communicating directly with the officials entitled to vote on an issue.

Only three members of the public appeared at the Council meeting at which the Parks Board was dissolved.

Weyant shook his head, opining that local residents seemed to think they were exercising their civic responsibilities by venting on social media. Ten years ago,  he noted, social media was barely a thing–just beginning to emerge.

Needless to say, a diatribe delivered on Facebook or WhatsApp is equivalent to spitting in the wind; it certainly doesn’t constitute civic engagement and absent an avalanche of anger  that prompts actual engagement, it is extremely unlikely to change the minds or behaviors of public officials.

I would have expected more government/citizen interaction in a small community where people know each other and are likely to know their elected officials personally, especially because the community does have a local newspaper, however limited its reach.

Obviously, I was wrong–the information conveyed by a local newspaper is necessary, but evidently not sufficient.

It will be interesting–and probably depressing–to see what the Brownsburg City Council does with the land and funding sources it now directly controls without the “hassle” of an intervening source of checks and balances.

If it turns out that local folks don’t like those subsequent actions, maybe they can blame their diminishing exercise of democratic civic engagement on social media.

Bread and circuses…..


  1. It seems that civic participation in government may well be the bellwether for democracy. When it goes, so does the republic.
    I have to add… this is the most depressing thing I’ve read all week.

  2. I researched Travis Tschaenn who is employed as National Account Manager for Randell-Reilly; researched Randell-Reilly who is listed as the “growth platform for vital industries”. Could this be connected to the dissolution of the Park Board and the property in question?

    It is always FOLLOW THE MONEY!

  3. “An Indianapolis development company is said to have its eye on a well-located parcel currently being used as a park…but there is no confirmatory evidence of that theory.”

    JoAnn seems to have more about the “theory.” Brownsburg redevelopment commission would know if there is interest in the parks’ properties. So does the Prez of the council.

    In an oligarchy, the decisions are made behind the scenes, and what is done in person during “meetings” is 100% performative.

    I also did a little research, and all the meetings in Brownsburg are streamed online so residents can witness the meetings. Complaining is optional. Depending on what happens with the park and $368K, some lawyers can stop the development (I’m assuming the town prefers the park over an Indy developer.)

    BTW, Brownsburg has a town manager – not a mayor. He/She was not interviewed for any of the articles I saw. The BRC knows, and so does the Prez of the council.

    Are you sure this wasn’t Muncie? LOL

  4. Hoosier-educated investigative journalist Gary Webb graduated from Lawrence Central High School, and went on to write in 1996 the “Dark Alliance” series for another small, local paper, the San Jose Mercury News.

    Small, local, newspapers, like the SJMN, the Indianapolis Times, and perhaps the Brownsburg Sentinel can have an inordinate impact.

  5. Gary Webb was ultimately blacklisted and committed suicide. Anything outside of the establishment narrative is deemed CT.

  6. I am amazed the number of times people get on social media and complain that “the street light in front of my house is broken. Why doesn’t somebody fix it?”

    It would have even easier to google “report broken street light” and the first three Google results would have all likely pointed to the same web page where it could be reported.

    If you can get some idiot to help themselves how are you going to get a whole community to care about stuff that might not even affect them?

    Scouts has a Citizenship in the Community Merit Badge, and a good part of that is understanding local government and what each department does and then find out how to find out what’s going on in the community and how the process of public meetings work. It’s not comprehensive but it does shine a little light on how the gears of local government work and what your local taxes pay for. Everyone should be required to “earn” this merit badge.

  7. JoAnn’s research pointed to what is most likely the main reason for dissolution of the park board and removing it from the meeting agenda.

    A land development company doesn’t want to deal with pesky citizens’ objections to their plans if they don’t have to. Offering sweet personal deals to the town manager and council president was probably used as the easiest and quickest way to avoid hassles and move forward with a land grab.

  8. If you’re wondering if going to and speaking at meetings works, just look at the wrong wing takeover of local school boards. Take the lesson from the other side! The squeaky wheel gets the grease! I’m not sure how much of the acquiescence can be attributed to the threats that were hurled at members, but I recommend you not emulate that.

  9. Theresa – You betcha!

    Peggy – You betcha – again “THEY” are engaged/coordinated to their ends. WE aren’t – everywhere all at once…

    I again strongly suggest two “ancient” texts that predicted/began to explain the slow death of community – “Bowling Alone” and “Amusing Ourselves to Death”.

  10. Most people no longer have time for many of these local meetings so we used to pay the press to attend and monitor and question local politicians for us. Now many don’t have the money or the time to spend which results in less attention and more opportunity for nefarious local politicians. That’s the real purpose behind our pervasive at home entertainment/news/advertising/propaganda network. More opportunity for nefarious others.

  11. Pete,

    Not sure about not having the “money” to attend public meetings. But why not the time? Easy – time is “better” spent these days than before on: social media, recreation, streaming TV/films, eating out…much more fun than democracy!

  12. Next stop for the developers – the Zoning Board, and if successful there due to citizen apathy the sleepy citizens may welcome a Love’s to the community a year or two hence in place of their former park and, one can argue, they deserve the semis and diesel smoke Love’s will bring to downtown. Civic education, whut’s thet? Follow the pesos.

  13. How hard is it to “give up” because it seems eminently clear that most politicians/office holders at every level are mostly interested in some combo of: their own power, money, their Party, ideology with little/no interest in their constituents (other than donors) and democratic principles/values?

  14. Yes, “Follow the money!”
    And yes, oligarchs decide, and the rest is performative…depressing.

  15. Lester, personally, I liked paying the press to cover local government meetings for us paid for by a local paper subscription. However it seems like that there are many to whom that cost is optional but when push comes to shove they’d rather sit at home and watch tv.

    Unfortunately one of the things that the TV tells them is to go to school board meetings and bitch about the schools teaching your kids or grandkids to be queer or not racial supremacists. Now that motivates them.

  16. Thank you for your report on the apathy concerning local political events. If not for the reporting of this in our local news I would have been ignorant of the goings on here in Brownsburg. I wonder how many other towns have the same issues with their local government and are ignorant of the wheelings and dealings that directly affect their lives?

    I did attend 1 town council meeting and 1 park board meeting (apparently their last) but feel guilty that I had absolutely no effect. The thing that irks me most was the reaction of the town council, or lack there of. They would not even respond at all to questions from the handful of people that did bother to attend. All displayed a benign or smug face in silence as they apparently knew the dye had been cast and nothing citizens could do would have any change in the outcome. This I find most upsetting. I guess this way they don’t have to worry about a verbal misstep or incriminating quote down the road.

    How do you make local citizens pay attention to situations that may or may not have their best interest’s in mind?

  17. I am grateful that my local newspaper, The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, still publishes six days a week. Citizens need a free press to hold officials to account for their actions.

  18. After years of attending committee hearings at the Statehouse, years of going to rallies and organized protests, I finally realized that my voice, money and attendance was just performance for those who were either bored or already bought or both. They were completely disdainful and dismissive of any remonstrance. It was clear that they had the power to control their desired outcome and intended to keep it that way.
    Rather than spend the time, money and energy on a clearly wasted effort, I decided to go back to calling, emailing, writing to local, state and federal office holders.
    I also vote and encourage my neighbors, family and friends to vote. I also support local/state candidates personally and financially despite the fact that my contributions will always be too small to influence anyone.
    It is rare to find any official at any level who is willing to spend the time to listen to concerns, unless you belong to the right class or have big money, you have almost no chance of making any impact on any single issue.
    Think about what it means just to attend a Marion City County Council meeting. You must drive downtown (good luck with finding a way that does not involve orange barrels), find a parking spot that you can afford, walk to the building, negotiate security, find the room and hope that the meeting doesn’t get delayed or postponed. Having attended and even participated in a few of those meetings, it was a waste of my time. Most of the members of the Council were busy with other things on their desks while citizens were speaking. It was insulting as well as humiliating.
    Yes, I still remain engaged, regardless of the futility. I still vote when there is a candidate for the office that is actually opposed. It may be a fool’s errand in this state, but I keep using my thimble to empty that ocean, too stubborn to stop.

  19. There was some decent recent some time ago which showed that politicians ignored massive emails, calls, etc. from their constituents and voted the opposite way. Now, in all fairness, with activist groups getting their members to do mass communicating, you can’t really blame the pols. I would love to see some good research on the most effective way to get a pol to read your concern: email? text? phone call? social media message? letter to the editor?

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