There’s an election coming up on April 2, so we are going to be bombarded with arguments about why we should vote for one candidate or another.
I suspect that much of what we hear will be proposals regarding policy.
For example, the Village of Forest Park is more than $1 million in the hole. Video gambling is out of the picture, so we’ll probably hear that we have to cut services or raise taxes or eliminate waste or, for those who believe in miracles, a promise to pull revenue rabbits out of the fiscal hat. Or, all of the above.
I’ve decided that what I want to hear from candidates is not so much policy proposals—ie what we need to do—but process promise— ie how decisions will be made.
EXAMPLE ONE: GOOD PROCESS
Do you remember how we made the decision to go on record as being a welcoming village? To his credit, Mayor Calderone presided over an open, inclusive process. There were town hall meetings, letters to the editor, interviews in the Review and arguments over beers in Forest Park’s many watering holes.
That open, inclusive process made almost everyone feel that their voices were heard—not always agreed with, mind you—but heard, so that when the resolution was passed by the village council, most everyone felt it was “good enough,” not perfect but acceptable.
EXAMPLE TWO: BAD PROCESS
I don’t have to go through all the details regarding the referendum on video gambling, which you already know. The point I want to make was that the decision-making process regarding what to do about video gambling began as an inclusive process and then morphed into decisions made by a few.
The result was contention and polarization in a community which usually values its small-town charm. . .and civility.
The irony was that many Forest Park residents saw no problem with having video gambling in their town. The reason many voted yes—which really meant no—on the referendum was because they were upset with the decision-making PROCESS.
Not all decision-making processes, of course, need to be preceded by town hall meetings. We don’t need a referendum to decide whether or not to change the oil in the Sterling dump truck that the Public Works Dept. uses.
We want leadership which discerns the difference between minor problems which don’t need our input, bigger issues which we want to be notified of so we can attend council meetings and voice our concerns during the time designated for public comment, and issues which are more strategic–issues regarding what values we want upheld and in what direction we want the village to go.
The candidates I will vote for are people who show me that they genuinely believe that governing is not a contest in which you fight for what you want. It’s not a competition like a football game in which fans north of the Wisconsin/Illinois border wear green and gold on game day and those south of the state line where orange and navy blue.
Pay attention to the imagery candidates use when talking about process. If they use words like “fight” and “win,” they are picturing the decision-making process as a competition or worse a war. If I’m going to win, you have to lose. That’s what seems to be going on in Washington regarding the potential for another government shutdown. President Trump wouldn’t compromise because it would “make him look foolish” to his base, and the Democratic leadership wouldn’t bend because it would anger their base. The people on the other side of the aisle are the enemy.
In contrast, if the image you have in your mind for decision-making is a family discussion, you’ll find yourself using language like “inclusive” and “compromise.” Imagine a family gathering in which two adults and three children try to figure out whether the whole family should move because one of the parents has a job offer which will increase revenues by 20%. Each of the five people at the table have invested themselves in different things.
One of the children might be in the middle of her senior year of high school. One might hate racist elements in the community and be ready to go “anywhere but here.” The youngest might feel, “I’ll go anywhere as long as I’m with mom and dad.” One parent might get a lot of ego strokes by taking the new job not to mention the higher standard of living, while the other might value the group of supportive friends he has nurtured more than acquiring a bigger house.
Clearly everyone won’t get everything they want, but it is so important for the long-term health of the family that when the decision is made and implemented, everyone is satisfied that their voices have been heard and their desires taken into consideration.
Most likely, all of us will have to give a little in order to get the village back in the black. I will vote for the candidate who assures me that somehow I will be included in the process of deciding who gives what and how much.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Aretha nailed it. I can adapt to a lot of changes I don’t like so much if I feel like my voice has been heard and my values taken seriously.