THE RAGGED EDGE

Council meetings are supposed to be boring

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Y’all know this isn’t normal, right?

Y’all know that the kind of toxic, partisan rancor on display at the Cedar Park and Leander city council meetings the last few months is not normal. Right?

It’s not normal. In fact, it’s not even done. 

Look, l’m a 30-year newspaper veteran. I have wasted/invested more hours of my life than I care to mention sitting on the back row of city council meetings watching the mundane ebb and flow of local politics play out through debates over street repairs, water system issues and zoning approvals. If council members do their jobs right, those meetings are boring boring boring. 

More times than not, I had to pinch myself to stay awake. And, I’m a policy wonk who thrives on public policy debates.

That’s how city council meetings are supposed to be. Not this three-ring circus we’ve endured recently.  

This. Is. Not. Normal. 

I remember when the aldermen in a small town to the west of here literally threw chairs at each other. It as if a particularly bad WWE bout had gone tragically awry. Literally. They threw folding chairs. At each other. The general public had to flee the council chambers for safety. 

It was a circus. (Sadly, at the time, the town was so small it couldn’t afford an actual three-ring circus so everyone had to settle for the one-ring variety.)

I kid you not, it spawned a directive for every newsroom I subsequently lead that every reporter must carry a camera to government meetings on the off chance that, “they throw chairs at each other or something.”

But, I will be go-to-hell if what we’ve witnessed recently isn’t on that same level of crazy. 

I have never seen so many elected representatives who think it’s okay to talk over or even yell at colleagues. With only a very few exceptions, I’ve never seen so many elected city officials exhibit such disrespect toward private citizens.

And I have never seen city governments so eaten up with political partisanship they can’t even get through a discussion about decorum.

I have some advice for elected officials everywhere.

First, you signed up for this job. You spent time and money campaigning for it. If you didn’t know that you would suffer some criticism for making unpopular decisions or taking controversial stands, you were naive. So, yes, you have to sit there and take it, even if the criticism is blistering or — in your mind — unfair.

As your friendly, local communications professional, my advice, whenever this happens, is to smile and nod and let people have their say.

Second, your job as an elected official is to serve the community. That means everyone in your community — not just your campaign workers or those who voted for you. Everyone.

Third, (or maybe second-B) your personal cultural agenda means nothing against serving your community. Everyone in this country deserves to live in a secular, representative democracy. Let your faith inform your actions, certainly, but you should not forget that you serve people of all faiths and many who observe no faith whatsoever. 

Finally, weaponizing social media against your detractors is an act of cowardice. Either have the civil good grace to reach out to those who hold differing views or remain silent. Calling out private citizens on your social media channel is … distasteful and, frankly, an embarrassment to your community and your colleagues.

Remember that everything you do as an elected representative reflects on our community. Developers watch it. Future city employees watch it. Entrepreneurs who are considering investments in our community watch it. They watch YOU.

Be the kind of leaders that your community deserves which, at its most basic, is considerate and respectful to the citizens and communities you serve.

 

Richard Stone is the Editor in Residence at the Hill Country News.  His column, The Ragged Edge, has won a handful of moderately covetous awards and has appeared in dozens of newspapers across the state. Stone recently retired as the publisher of the Taylor Press.

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