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We didn't elect a majority
Jack Balshaw 11/20/2002

The honeymoon didn't last long. In the first edition of the Argus to go to print after the election, our possible new mayor, in a letter to the editor, started sowing the seeds of continued dissention on the new council. He accurately states, "The voters' message to the new City Council is to focus on basic issues". From that point on his letter became more and more negative, almost as if he was a disgruntled loser rather than the potential winner who would be expected to bring the council together. In almost a sour grapes comment he says, "The burden will be on the new majority to fill the potholes and solve the traffic problems."

I hope he will recognize that the public doesn't elect a new majority or a new minority, it elects a city council. It expects ALL seven members to work for ALL the citizens and to "fill the potholes and solve the traffic problems" together. The problem with the last several councils has been that they have not worked together for the people of Petaluma but have argued and conspired among themselves to promote personal ideologies. It's time for that to stop.

Let's end this now, before we even know who will be our new council members. It would be wonderful if several months from now no one in town can identify a new majority or a new minority on our city council. My hopes aren't too high that this will be the case. The newspaper articles reporting on election night note four separate parties for four of the candidates and one big party for the other four candidates. Already the association of interests and divisiveness is coalescing.

People of all interests should at least start off working for what is best for all of Petaluma. This probably means compromise and no one getting everything they would like. We all have our preferred solution to problems but nobody has THE single, best solution. Let's agree to work towards getting the best "acceptable" solutions to the community's problems.

The mayor, whoever he is, should be responsible for guiding the whole council towards consensus actions. It's OK for individual council members not to go along with the rest because of principles on this or that issue. But when not going along becomes a predictable position, then that council member is being an obstructionist and not merely a principled person.

To a large extent, the newspapers, by their manner of reporting the actions of our council, have the opportunity of helping set a tone of cooperation among council members. Words are powerful and most community members still get their news about local politics from the newspaper. Just as we might fear how the federal government's new focus on secrecy may erode democracy, the local reporting of local civic affairs can either foster cooperation and open government or encourage bickering and secrecy.

Our national government's manner of operating maybe the best example of how not to do the peoples' business. Even though the Legislative chamber is close to being evenly split, the majority (even if only by one vote) considers it has a mandate to govern. While each senator may have a responsibility to represent and help his state, and each representative his district, they ALL have the larger responsibility to do what's best for the whole country when major issues are the subject.

The Executive branch understandably but even the Judiciary unfortunately seem to follow this same pattern. How much of our distaste for government is because of the continual infighting among those whose responsibility is to the general public?

Let's see if we can help keep our council, newcomers and hold overs, from splitting into majority and minority factions. Let's be quick to criticize but even quicker to accept compromise.


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