As an American, I don't ask much from my government — safe borders and streets, the opportunity to earn a decent living, a safety net for those who stumble and creative problem-solving.
Depending on what's in the papers, I'm more or less happy with the first three items on my checklist. But the problem-solving part? There appears to be a growing disconnect between those at the top and the people they govern.
And it's not just in Washington or Concord or even City Hall; discontent goes as far down as the Manchester dog park.
Five weeks ago I wrote about Peanut Park on the West Side. It was a snapshot of a park built by volunteers who were adamant about minimizing government involvement in the park.
That came with a price. Doggies and their owners endured a no-frills park that lacked water, a pooch playground and even a nice place to sit (for the owners, at least).
Still, leaders said, the dogs were happy.
I've since learned, however, that there's a lot of sniping and barking at the park, and it's not the canines who are doing it.
Factions — dare I say, packs? — have developed. They have their opposing Facebook pages. They snarl over different notions of how the park should be run. And they don't mind pointing a finger, or lifting a hind leg, toward the other side.
Take Gary Hamer. He has helped organize one faction of the park, let's call it Friends, for Friends of the Manchester Dog Park, the name of their Facebook page.
It's been a year since the park opened, he said last week, and nothing has changed. He and the Friends want to see some initiative to bring water, a shelter, a picnic table and an agility course to Peanut Park. They even want to see more dog parks throughout the city.
But they say nothing happens. (Actually, this week Alderman and state Rep. Phil Greazzo did bring a picnic table and canopy to the park, something Hamer attributes to my asking questions.)
Laurel Street resident David Bigelow, another Friend member, said the five-member executive board that oversees the park is insular.
The Friends say all five are small-government Republicans who are politically active. They discourage initiative, maintain a strict no-government-help ideology, and keep the members, who pay $10 a year to join, in the dark.
“Now that they are part of the system, they have become the system, and heaven forbid you should question someone in charge,” Bigelow said. Especially irksome is the stalled effort to gain tax-exempt status for the park, the Friends said. The organization needs to be more democratic, Hamer said, adding it's time for the city to take a more active oversight in the park.
On the other side is the Manchester Dog Park Association. State Rep. Tammy Simmons, a member of the executive board, said she and her fellow board members spent $2,000 of their own money to launch the park.
She said Hamer and others are quick to complain, but slow to do much. If they want a shelter, they should draw up a plan and raise money; no one will stop them, she said.
If they want tax exempt status, raise the $400; the leaders will be happy to file the papers. If the Friends want public funding for shelters and water lines, they're free to got to City Hall and ask for it, she said.
“There's only a ... storm on Facebook,” Simmons said. “The dogs are safe and happy. This is just drama.”
But Simmons said the board will continue to select future members (a non-politician, Kevin Roux, has been asked, Simmons said). And financial information will “probably” be shared with members at the next annual meeting.
While insisting the board has never said no to anything, in the next breath Simmons said the Association won't accept taxpayer support or a fenced-in area for small dogs.
“I'm OK with the dog park being what it is right now,” Simmons said. “It's what we said it would be, a safe, clean place for a dog to play.”
So here, in a microcosm, is our American political system. Leaders who insulate themselves with like-minded pals and bristle over dissent. People who complain and grumble but take little initiative, other than to post on Facebook and call a reporter.
And Facebook pages, Internet sites and media (myself included) who stoke divisions and acrimony.
No wonder politics has gone to the dogs.
Mark Hayward has been a reporter with the New Hampshire Union Leader for 15 years. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.