Robert Kennedy once said, "One-fifth of the people will be against everything all the time."
His accurate math is based on an axiom whose formal title is the Pareto principle. You know it as the 80/20 rule, which, when applied to business, estimates that 80% of your sales comes from 20% of your customers.
Another application can be local government: 80% of the complaints will come from 20% of the citizens. Anyone who has attended city council, school board or planning commission meetings and sees the same speakers at each session will appreciate the accuracy of this application.
The 20% came to mind as I reviewed the transcript of the Feb. 23 meeting of the Orange County Fair Board. Two speakers broached the subject of foster family night, an evening just prior to the opening of the annual county fair when Orange County's foster families have the place to themselves.
They get to eat, ride and play at the fair without the rest of us getting in the way. I was at last year's foster family night and walked away believing that the Fair Board was at least one government agency that got it right.
Last year, the event attracted about 8,000 people and was paid for by private funds. This year, the more ambitious goal of attracting 25,000 foster kids and parents will be funded by a dollar added to each ticket sold for shows at the Pacific Amphitheater.
At the February meeting, government critic Jim Mosher questioned whether the additional concert buck was a tax. A legal review of the process was conducted and the conclusion was, no, it is not a tax.
Because Mosher raised the issue of taxes, it seems an appropriate time to elevate the discussion and put one misconception to rest. It may come as a shock to representatives in legislatures across the country — particularly those who signed those silly "no new taxes" pledges — but not all taxes are bad and not all Americans oppose taxes, even new ones.
Most Americans understand that there is a price to pay for defending our soil, for police and fire services, for trash collection, for the regulation of interstate commerce and much more. None of that is cheap or free.
A 2007 Roper poll commissioned by Bankrate.com showed that a whopping 92% of Americans "understand the necessity of taxes" and that 92% also believe that "every American has a duty to pay their fare share of taxes."
No, Americans don't mind paying taxes. What Americans do mind is wasting our tax dollars, and there are countless examples.
But wait, there's more.
Theresa Sears, another speaker, said she believes "what is important is the history of what has gone on here and the underlying reason as to what motivated this whole foster family deal."
"Deal?" There is no deal. There is no profit-taking or backroom bargaining going on. This is, pure and simple, an attempt by Fair Board members to reward foster families.
In the case of the buck per ticket, I prefer to look at that dollar not as an expense, but as an investment in all of the benefits that foster families provide.
Through their efforts, foster parents help lower crime rates, they lower their foster children's future dependence on government aid, they create a cycle of stronger families and they help create citizens more likely to contribute to society. This may be the best buck any of us have invested in a long time.
One night at the fair is the least we can do to say thank you to these families through a small charge, even if the malcontent 20% believe otherwise.
STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.