Not just ‘out there’
Exactly when did taxes become such bad things that they trigger unrepressed anger at public officials? More than the rather normal grumbling? I’m not sure but it must be dealt with more and more by local governments.
“Any person who’s coming in to serve needs to understand this is happening,” says Tom Cochran, CEO and executive director of the non-partisan mayor’s group. Cochran says that budgetary decisions made in this tough economic climate are likely to trigger more anger. “If they don’t have a website, if they don’t have a blogger,” he says of mayors, “they better, by God, get one.” USA Today
Note the quote focus on the need for communication by public officials. It’s very important not only to do the right things to be fiscally responsible, but also be able to communicate what you are doing and why. Or the anger builds. To continue:
“There is inside this country right now an anti-tax, anti-spending mood,” Cochran says. “It’s a new thing in America: We’re going to kick you out of office. They don’t have to wait anymore.”
Voters generally like recalls, says Joshua Spivak, who writes a blog on recall elections and is a senior fellow at the Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform at Wagner College in New York City. “That’s the whole point of democracy,” he says. “Mayors have to accept that … that’s part of the challenges of being a public elected official.” USA Today
Note the statement “It’s a new thing in America: We’re going to kick you out of office.” Both the unrepressed anger and the method, recall, are new, at least in the zeal and number of times expressed.
Locally, Elk Rapids recalled almost all members of the Village Council in 2006. And now, there are recall rumblings heard at Elk Rapids Township Board meetings. There is a certain amount of irony here. Many local government positions go almost begging to be filled. Often the elections have single candidates running unopposed – for the thankless job. Voter turnouts are notoriously low. The normal election process is typically so low-key that it doesn’t produce serious debate on key issues. That’s unfortunate but true.
It would seem that a very important part of being a public elected official is to be able to manage and mitigate the anger of constituents, not just be able to balance the budget. Otherwise, officials can be removed from office for doing the right things, which is generally bad for democracy, and can handicap their successors.
The anger is real. The problems are real. As in 2006, there seems to be a recall contagion in the air, almost a bloodlust. Where are the communications that can mitigate that anger? Public officials must step up to improve their communication skills in these troubled times.