Keeping the Faith

Column by Vicki Hood

Fishing in the Dark

If there’s anything that would be of value to alleviate the discourse in our political arena, it would be the re-establishment of trust.  Trust between the voters and those who hold public office has been substantially diminished for many reasons.  From our nation’s capital to the smallest of community city councils, faith has been lost in many of our so-called leaders because they have violated the trust of those who elected them. In the past month, we’ve learned about a brazen New York congressman who intentionally misled voters by misrepresenting his personal and work background, education and campaign finances.  A number of investigations have been launched this week and he may even end up facing criminal charges depending on what authorities find once that investigation is complete.  Many of his constituents in his district are demanding his resignation.  We have far too many elected officials who have abused their positions and the power they afford, pushing their own personal agendas rather than what is best for the majority. 

When voters do not trust their elected officials, cooperation and getting the work that must be done come into conflict because everything the governing body does and says is suspect in the public’s eye.  We know that everything is not always as it seems, but the lack of trust often puts legitimate decisions and actions into question.  When the public perceives something to be shady or underhanded, it can become difficult to convince  someone otherwise. 

The Guernsey City Council has a current situation that speaks to this issue.  In the most recent election, the town council had two positions for council members open.  Four people put the time and effort in to pay the filing fees, run a campaign and put their names on the ballot for those two positions.  The mayor’s position was also open and two people filed to run for that seat.  One of those two candidates was already holding a council seat for a four-year term that began in 2020.  That council member was elected to the mayor’s position, which left his council seat empty with two years remaining in the term.  It is up to the new council to fill the vacated council position and what manner they choose to do so.  According to state statute, the council has the OPTION to take applications and select their choice to fill the position and it seems this is the direction the council has chosen to follow as they took applications through this past Monday and intend to make that appointment at tonight’s council meeting.  But when they made this intention known last week, it raised the concerns of a number of community members who feel that the voters should be represented in this decision by offering that open seat to the person who got the next highest vote total on the ballot last November.  Neither choice is wrong with regard to the law but for the council to appoint their own choice may be a mistake by stepping over the voters.  It isn’t easy to find people to serve in public office, especially in small communities where it is a very low or even unpaid position.  But besides the two council members who were elected in November, there were two more who took the initiative to pay filing fees, fill out paperwork and run a campaign in an effort to become a council member.  That effort should count for something in this situation.  But an even more important thing to consider is the fact that by taking the next-in-line candidate from the election (and that was the very reason for this situation), it negates ANY conjecture that the new council is favoring someone in particular rather than appointing the most qualified candidate.  Here is why I raise this issue.  Last summer there was a town project that required a bid process to award the contract.  During public comments of a regular city council meeting, the previous mayor and one of the council members were essentially accused of favoring one contractor over others because of a personal friendship.  It was made clear they did not believe the decision was made without bias although they offered no evidence of that being the case.  This is what I mean about how important the public’s PERCEPTION is.  Just as it was unfair to make any kind of assumptions about the fairness of the award of that bid, it is also unfair to assume that the new council is electing to take separate applications so they can pick someone they favor over what the voters chose in the election.  But what a great opportunity this council has to take that PERCEPTION off the table completely by using the results of November’s election to fill the empty council seat.  Wouldn’t that be a great way to show that this council wants to be transparent?  Wouldn’t that be a great way to re-establish some trust with your voting public? 

If we’re going to do positive things in this community, we’ve all got to be willing to work together. For a small-town council, Guernsey has seen its share of adversarial behavior, complete with an embezzlement case and several lawsuits.  Isn’t it time to be bigger than our differences?  A little diversity in how we think is not a bad thing—it can in fact, be a great asset because it often leads to better ideas and smarter decisions.  If we’re going to set examples, let’s set good ones.