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Embrace Healthy Disagreement and the Rule of the Majority 


This week, an Oregon newspaper reported on the dilemma facing one community: Voters approved, through a bond, the construction of a new central library. But now, the organizers behind the construction are tasked with finding a piece of land large enough to accommodate a project of this massive scale. Why didn't they be sure to find proper land before they put it to voters to approve?

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The story mentioned above is unfolding in Gresham, Oregon—but it sounds a lot like the dilemma currently facing the Deschutes County library board. With its slated land near the county jail unable to be master-planned at the present time, they're back to the drawing board finding the land to build the Central Library voters approved in November 2020. And yet, finding the land is just part of their struggle. Perhaps more importantly, the current board is also wrestling with the very real problem of learning to disagree in a healthy way. The board voted on whether they were in favor of the bond measure language supporting a Central Library prior to the bond going to voters. The majority of board members voted in favor. The members in the minority weren't happy with that outcome and ever since have actively pushed to reverse it.

Library Director Todd Dunkelberg likened their lack of acceptance regarding the outcome of the vote to the similar lack of acceptance of the presidential election that led to the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021—and then, under pressure, later apologized for the analogy. We think the analogy was apt. Boards can argue back and forth all they want about a particular topic, but when they vote, it should stand. The same holds true when the public votes in favor of a project; that too should stand.

The lack of healthy disagreement, and the inability to respect the will of the majority is tearing democracy apart, all the way from the library stacks in Central Oregon to the halls of Congress in Washington, D.C. This should concern all of us deeply.

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