When you have people “serving” in unpaid positions in government, like a school board member, or a member of a city council, you have to be very careful to elect persons who will do the job responsibly.
By “responsibly,” I mean more than possessed of some vague desire to “serve the community” and bringing to the job qualities beyond having been born and raised in the near environs and attended school nearby. Perhaps even a concrete plan to enhance the workings of the agency to which they aspire?
“Responsibly” would include a commitment to show up, always; a continuing drive to improve the agency; a grasp of what has been done in the past; a curiosity as to how others have handled the job elsewhere; courage to stand up for correct, unpopular positions; an egalitarian approach to government; and most important of all, the drive to operate as any elected official should who is beholden solely to the constituency which elected them by being more than a meeting-attendee following the directions of a “professional,” the managing official almost always hired by the elected group.
If one lacks the wherewithal to do the work involved (and it is a LOT of work – doing one’s own research, spending LOTS of time listening to the constituency, gleaning the novel good ideas from the novel silly ones), one should avoid the “celebrity” of elected office.
Two examples of the failures of elected officials to do the work involved in properly fulfilling an elected office is close by for any of us to examine: 1) The never-ending school bus transportation controversy; and 2) The Ava city street sign confusion.
In both cases, the issues have gone on for many years and each could have been easily resolved fairly quickly. The bus issue is simply this: Do we have the best school bus program we an afford, and, if not, what program would be better?
The street-sign issue is even simpler: What is the most efficient and sensible manner to name the streets of Ava? A little research by elected officials into how these issues were handled elsewhere could have been resolved both of them.
For the buses, that research was begun by a regular, everyday member of the community who took on the job of surveying many communities in our area to see what methods they used to get students to school. She then reported her survey results to the School Board at an open meeting. I know because I was there, and, as I recall, one of the results of her survey was the surprise other districts showed when she told them how economically and well our system operated.
Was that survey limited? Sure it was. After all, she was a “civilian”, not elected, not paid, just interested. But, she showed everyone at that meeting and the School Board whose job it is to settle questions like that how to go about deciding them.
So, check out as many districts across the state (country?) that resemble our size, location, and budget and see who is doing a better job transporting students than we are and steal their ideas. If none are, keep what we have and maybe offer to “sell” our program to other districts. Problem solved.
The street-sign problem of Ava is, as I said, even easier to deal with. Is there a national organization of mayors, or civil engineers, or municipal planners that could be tapped for help? I’ll bet there are. Or fifty state transportation agencies that advise cities laying out naming streets? Is there how-to literature published by some groups representing municipalities that speaks to this question? What about biographies or autos written about those who designed streets (and attached names) outlining the principles they used in doing so?
From my hometown of Waterbury, Connecticut, settled in the early 1600’s, where wagon tracks and goat paths were paved to accommodate the existing structures to “artificial” cities like Washington, D.C. built “from scratch” a hundred and a half years later, there must be plenty of sources of information that would have helped the City produce a system easier to accomplish and understand.
I recall a very thoughtful, local resident proposing several excellent street names (Wayne Terrace, William Avenue, Cipriano Drive) that were unaccountably ignored in favor of more notable, and just as confusing, designations. But, where are the ideas of numerical streets in two opposite directions and alphabetical streets in the other two? Or dividing the town into quadrants meeting at the square but assigning each an alphabetical or numerical theme (Aspen Street, Butternut Street, Cedar Street) (First Street, Second Street, Third Street), or a third quadrant Presidentially alphabetical (Adams, Buchanan, Coolidge, Davis (oops, better skip that one), Eisenhower), and a fourth one with prominent city notables? Cross Street retaining the themes and order? Or someone, somewhere has thought up one that is discovered by researching the question?
Unpaid government electees are not, or at least should not be, excused from the work demanded by their office simply because they are not being paid. The unpaid nature of the office was obvious when the candidates put their names on the ballots. And, as we all know, there are perks received by the office-holders that are not considered salaries, but certainly involve remuneration in any government position (mileage payments, expenses paid, other goodies).
A part-time unpaid elected position is extremely important to the operation of many small communities, perhaps all the more important when potentially qualified candidates are deeply committed to careers which feed their families and are difficult to attract to unpaid, time-consuming, often unsung, frequently bathed-in-controversy positions. Those who make the “sacrifice” to run for those offices must realize they are due no slack because they are performing without compensation.
It’s an honor thing, isn’t it? So, let’s see some honor. Do the work. Do it all. Do it correctly. Do it now. And if you can’t, resign and leave it to someone who is willing.