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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

After the Election

The confetti has rained and the balloons have been released. The "unity" talk will continue for a while until the first difficult issue breaks. The hope for a productive city will linger. The future seems filled with possibilities that will disappear sooner than we would like.

I think about how good people felt 4 years ago when Mark Funkhouser was elected. That lasted about 5 minutes that turned into 4 long, brutal years that have left the city a bit battered and bruised in some regards.

Today I feel hopeful again with Sly James elected mayor. My concern is that the city council is filled with retreads and re-elected reps. Will they do a better job with a new mayor? Or will it be business as usual? That slippery slope of politics is slippery for a reason...the darn line of ethics keeps moving. I've seen it a hundred times. Politicians get elected thinking they will make a difference. They find out there is a huge level of resistance to their call for change and new ideas. Frustration gives way to compromise and then, slowly but surely, the compromises turn into compromising positions.

Power is seductive. Those who win office and suddenly find power in their hands begin to learn how to use it and don't realize they are being used by it. They rationalize that it is more important to stay in office and keep trying, even it means compromising in ways they never thought they would. The phrase "pick your battles" is a wonderful line of cover. I see it all the time in the University, in politics, even in interpersonal relationships. Compromise for the sake of unity, for the sake of peace, for the sake of moving forward out of a stalemate.

The problem with this strategy is that it moves the line of what is acceptable. After a few compromises you find that what is acceptable has moved greatly. How did you get so far from your original position and principles? But you are here now and the justifications begin. If I could just stay a little longer, I could make a difference, change things, have an impact. But that is not the place for elected officials.

The job of an elected official is not to be a changemaker, but to unleash the changemaking potential of others. This is what Mayor Funkhouser never got. He wanted to be the star. This is typically what most politicians don't get. They want to be kingmakers, out front and special, they want to shine. But when you are part of an elected group, you must work as a unit. There is not much room for being a star. However, you can be a leader, leading the group to see how to advance the agenda, how to work to allow things to happen - not make them happen, not control how they happen.

Politicians often think they are the only ones who can actually see what needs to be done and the ones who must control every aspect of how it is done. Some will try to legislate as a form of dictation. Some will try to micromanage other public employees. Most will not hold themselves accountable as they serve the interests of their special friends, special supporters, and those who curry their favor. This is where politicians lose their way. They think that their job is to give approval to this direction or that direction and to "make it happen." Unfortunately, that skips the most important part of their job - leadership. You must lead to make things happen, not just make them happen on your own. Empower others, lead, support, encourage, stand for something. These are not easy distinctions. No one is perfect. Some have given up even trying.

I wish the new mayor and city council the best as they embark on their new terms. I'll engage the public process, throw out suggestions, raise issues of accountability, and remind you of what the public expects. But don't get in my way or the way of others that are legitimately trying to make this city better. We've not been elected to anything. We are not accountable to you. You are accountable to us. That's change I can believe in.

1 comment:

Dan said...

Great analysis, Robyne.