As my wife Carol and I put the lights and ornaments on our Christmas tree earlier this month, in between the sips of Champagne and the relaxing thoughts wandering through my head as Tony Bennett crooned on about the blessings of the season, I thought of local politics.
Actually, that’s not as odd as it might seem. Though not an annual phenomenon, the local electoral process is a bit like the experience of putting up a Christmas tree. Each is a renewal of a process filled with a mixture of anticipation, anxiety and hope for a better future. In each we’re celebrating the better aspects of the old, while looking forward to the new.
With that in mind, some wishes for the New Year, and definitely for the next four months. Whatever happens in April, we will have a mostly new council. Even if the incumbents are re-elected, there will be three new faces, three new ways of doing things. Change is as inevitable as it is welcome.
To Michael Curry, Rory Hoskins, John Plepel, Jerry Webster, Mark Hosty, Martin Tellalian, Richard Scafidi, Anthony Lazzara and Carl Nyberg – may you be thoughtful and honest enough to think long and hard on what it is you want to do with your four years in office. Don’t worry whether you think we’ll agree with everything you say – it’s almost for certain we won’t. That’s life, and it’s certainly politics.
Just prepare yourselves to make a clear, honest argument for your positions, why you think they’re important, and why we should support them. If we have five people serving on the village council come April who are comfortable conducting themselves in such a manner, I’ll be delighted, whether I agree with them all the time or not.
Hopefully the four individuals we choose to sit on the village council will view the mayor, whoever that is, as a leader, but not a dictator. They’ll see someone they respect but are willing to hold fully accountable as a matter of course, not just when they feel like it.
To those of us who must vote, may we take our own set of responsibilities more seriously. We can start by reading newspapers, and attending council meetings. We can continue by asking questions, making suggestions and writing letters. In other words, by keeping ourselves informed and then heard. Just because our village is too large for direct participatory democracy, doesn’t mean we should simply trust the operation of our government to the handful of people we elect every so often.
While those folks rightfully and legally have the final say in matters before them, we have the first say, and it’s up to us to stay committed to resolving those issues.
Elected officials who work in a vacuum without voter or newspaper attention, tend to slip into autocratic mindsets and grow comfortable doing things by fiat, rather than by consensus. That’s when you get such disturbing phenomenon as officials who think it’s appropriate to utilize eminent domain as a primary tool rather than a last resort after all other approaches have failed.
Such attitudes develop and endure only when elected and appointed officials think voters are apathetic and don’t care enough to make the effort needed to stay on top of what their government is doing.
I’ve seen enough of this village to know that most people here do care. To all of you who care, may you enjoy a warm and wonderful holiday season, however you celebrate it. And have a safe and prosperous New Year.