I suppose it’s dangerous to write about your bosses, but since I’m about to tell you how hard their job is, I figure I should be ok (then again, if there’s no new blog posts next week, you’ll know I figured wrong). Anyways, I realize that second guessing every decision a politician makes has become America’s favorite past time, but that doesn’t make it right. The fact is, your City Council members are plain old citizen volunteers who take their turn at fulfilling what they consider a civic duty without any training or experience beyond being a citizen that cares about their community. They have full time jobs, families, and a life outside of being a Council member — but they are willing to give something back to the place they call home because that’s important to them.
Sure, they campaigned to get on Council, so you could argue they knew what they were getting into, but I’d also argue that signing up for Council doesn’t come with a label of “fresh meat”, but sometimes that’s how they must feel. And that’s probably why many talented people choose not to run for Council.
I honestly don’t think it’s the time commitment that keeps people away from participating in running their local government. I think it’s the criticisms that they become subject to — and that it’s not just limited to Council Chambers. It’s in the mall, at the grocery store, at the soccer game, at church, at work, over the fence in the back yard, at the birthday party… it’s everywhere, 24-7.
Somewhere along the way we seem to have come to view our elected officials as indebted to us, at our beckon call, like they owe us something. And that’s too bad because I think by allowing that perspective to be the norm, we’ve diminished the ability of Council to lead.
We all know it, but when it comes to something in our back yard, we ignore the fact that leadership decisions aren’t a popularity contest — and sometimes politicians have to make unpopular decisions because it’s the right thing to do — and that’s what they were elected to do.
Of course Council has to be responsive to the community, but a Council that only responds, never leads, so we the “electorate” have to understand that democracy wasn’t intended to be “every man for himself” — it’s supposed to be electing people to look out for the public good, which isn’t the same as giving every voter what they want.
It takes a unique person to keep a sense of optimism in an environment when every word you say shows up on the front page of the paper and every decision you make is put out there for public debate. Don’t get me wrong, public debate is the essence of our democratic system, but it seems to be getting more and more personal and less objective or based on facts.
This is not unique to Kent, this is a becoming an epidemic in cities all across America. We live in an increasingly complex time and the issues are getting harder and harder to understand. As a result, local politics falls victim to oversimplification, catch phrases and buzz words.
While reading your local newspaper, have you ever thought “Why did the city council make that decision?”
The local press only has so much room to cover an item being decided by Council. I suppose we’re fortunate that we have both the Record Courier and the Stater covering Kent, but even with reporters at a meeting or workshop reporting on what they hear, the public cannot possibly get all the details, questions and passion that goes into every decision.
The point of all my rambling is that our elected officals are your neighbors. Normal people who come together at 3-4 times a month to attempt to make Kent the best place to live, work and raise a family. These people are volunteers who happen to have one thing in common. They all care about Kent.
So in the spirit of Christmas, thank your Councilmen and Councilwomen for doing what they do for Kent. (And while you’re at it, throw in a good word about the City Manager too!)