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The council can never win

Jack Balshaw 3/5/2003


I watched the public comments portion of the City Council meeting the other night and saw them blasted for not taking the action the speakers thought they should have on the Patriot Act and the Magnolia development. The only time the council can "win" is when they bow to the wishes of various small groups advocating special interest actions.

As unfair as it might seem, bashing legislators is an honored and expected facet of public life. I have to confess to being a serial basher myself. No one, individual or organized group, goes to a council, school board or supervisorial meeting and says, "I'm just here to tell you what a good job you're doing." Perfection, as seen by the beholder, is the minimum standard elected officials are expected to meet. And you get no credit for meeting minimum standards.

It is appropriate for individuals and organized groups to let their elected officials know how they feel about selected issues. What isn't appropriate is for those individuals or groups to expect that, just because they put in a physical presence, the elected body must find in their favor. Public officials should or shouldn't be re-elected based on their overall performance and not because of singular actions.

Knowing the depth and intensity of public feelings on issues can and does affect legislative decisions. However, if those decisions don't benefit the majority of the public, they're kowtowing to vocal minorities and not representing the total public that elected them. This silent majority, even though not present at meetings, must be taken into account in every significant political decision.

One of the speakers at the public comments section mentioned that 300 people had been present to support a specific action and they were ignored. I don't think that's true. The elected officials were also representing the 6000 or 7000 voters who elected them, or the whole community, depending how you wish to look at it. In the actions taken on both the Patriot's Act and the Magnolia issue, I feel the council was just doing its duty as the individual members saw it.

I was disappointed myself on the Patriot Act outcome but can see that symbolic support or objection to matters outside their jurisdiction is a diversion from their local duties. We have national legislators to convey our feelings to the national legislature.

Perhaps some specific action can be taken locally. Like many, I object to the section of the Patriot Act that allows the government to secretly monitor a person's library book selections. Let's do something about that locally. We can't change the law but we can change the end result.

I question why, once a book is returned, there has to be any permanent record of who borrowed it and when. Let's work to get our library system to simply not retain any permanent record of who borrowed any book that has been returned. Sure this will cause the library system to do some minor computer reprogramming, but isn't that a small one time price to pay to preserve our privacy?

The Patriot Act is not going to be repealed, at least not for years. Perhaps the best and most democratic action should be to open it up to some sunshine. Let's ask our legislators to modify some of the secrecy aspects of the act. Let's ask them to give the open courts more responsibility in monitoring the Act.

It's wonderful to fight the good fight and to win or lose defending principles. But, perhaps being content with a half a loaf, a compromise, is almost as good and has a much greater chance of accomplishing something.


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