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Ombudsman could improve communication between officials, residents

April 4 is primary election day in Boulder City for new City Council members, and this year we have a good choice of candidates. Their election goals are fairly similar.

Over the past year or so there has been talk of ethics violations and improprieties in running the city, increases in utility fees, the threat of runaway housing development on limited city land, the destruction of historic properties such as the original Boulder City Hospital, key businesses leaving the city with boarded-up buildings, concerns surrounding the Boulder City bypass and the deterioration of public facilities, including the city pool. Newly elected City Council members will have a busy term or two facing these challenges.

At least one candidate, Warren Harhay, has raised the question of whether Boulder City needs an ombudsman (or two: one for businesses and one for citizens). But most people do not know what an ombudsman (or woman) is or does, even though many cities have them. The question of whether Boulder City currently has an official or unofficial ombudsman is uncertain and depends on who you ask at City Hall.

From the online dictionary, vocabulary.com (https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/ombudsman), I learned that your state representative is your unofficial ombudsman in dealing with government issues. The link gives the origin of the word and its definition: “The word ombudsman comes from the Swedish ombudsman, meaning ‘legal representative.’ An ombudsman is a legal representative, often appointed by a government or organization to investigate complaints made by individuals in the interest of the citizens or employees. Usually this is a state official appointed to oversee an investigation of complaints about improper government activity against citizens.”

So, do we need an ombudsman? I believe that we do. Inquiries at City Hall about simple matters, such as how and where to dig if you have a sewer or water problem at your residence or the disappearance of our marked crosswalks, meets with either conflicting information from different departments or even silly responses such as “the marked crosswalks are just for decoration.” (Personal inquiry at City Hall). City Hall needs information provided to the citizenry to be concise, accurate and equivalent across departments.

Perhaps asking the City Council to appoint an ombudsman is like asking the fox to lie down with the chickens. Also, whether the citizens need, want or can finance one or even two ombudsmen is debatable. And who would want to take on this onerous challenge? The appointed persons should not have a political or other axe to grind, should be long-term residents, be respected by the citizenry and should have a qualification or two in the service of their community.

The citizens of Boulder City certainly need a representative or two in dealing with City Hall. The current climate of misunderstanding, conflicting information and confusion needs to change, and citizens need advocates in dealing with the changes that are surely coming to Boulder City in the near future. How we manage this is another matter.

Angela Smith is a Ph.D. life coach, author and educator who has been resident of Nevada since 1992. She can be reached at catalyst78@cox.net.

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