Larry Banman – Representation is always about leadership
September 8, 2009
Years ago, I served a two-year stint as a town manager. Afterwards, I heard about a person in town who said that he could be cordial to me again.
We weren’t buddies, but we had been friendly prior to my accepting the job as a town manager and I hadn’t really noticed a chilling of the relationship during that time in public office. I also thought I was basically the same person before, during and after that period of servitude. What I discovered is that, basically, I was guilty by association. Because I was in public office, a level of mistrust had developed.
This forum has been used several times to talk about the role that elected board members play in our society. People are placed in office by an electorate to help facilitate the wishes and desires of the general population. Whether it is fixing potholes, providing health care, ensuring that good water comes into the house and bad water leaves the house or overseeing the education of the youth in the community, the board members are elected to exercise their intellect and common sense to make those things happen.
There is a responsibility those board members have to the electorate to be representative of the general desires of the community. If they don’t, they often aren’t re-elected or they can even be recalled.
I believe board members are also called upon to provide leadership. Rightfully, an issue like raising taxes is still put to a popular vote. However, board members are often asked to make decisions that are not subject to a popular vote. Certainly, they need to be in tune with the electorate. For example, they need to know that the electorate would generally favor fixing potholes, keeping an emergency room open around the clock, play an interscholastic athletic schedule or keep the sewer lines open.
They also need to follow the adopted policies for that particular governing body. Those policies are put into place through a public process. Because it is a public process, by extension, we all adopt those policies even if we don’t say a thing. When a board makes decisions under the guidelines of those accepted policies that board is simply acting as an agent of the larger body of citizens. Where you and I may differ in opinion is that I believe from time to time a board member has the responsibility to make an informed decision that may not necessarily be the most popular decision.
A board member must act in the best interests of the people he or she represents. I believe that can mean that, when warranted, he or she must be willing to say yes or no, even when that is not necessarily what people want to hear at that time.
Periodically, registered voters in a politically defined region are asked to elect people to represent them on a board of directors. For example, this November the voters in the West Grand School District will be asked to elect five board members from a field of seven candidates. Five are vying for four, four-year terms and two are seeking election for one, two-year term.
For me, it is fairly easy to determine if a board member is following the rules, which is what you take an oath to do prior to taking office. There are strict guidelines to follow regarding the spending of money and the following of policies. Where the rubber meets the road is for those decisions for which there is no map. Often those decision go into uncharted waters and nobody can predict all of the consequences. That is when a board member needs to lead. I have often found that it isn’t even necessarily a choice that turns out right or wrong, it was just necessary to choose a direction and move.
During those times, it becomes necessary for the rest of us to trust that those leaders will follow their best instincts and judgments. It is in those instances that I want my leaders to act within their character. When I vote for an official, it is a given that I want them to obey the rules and follow the law. I also realize that if I am not on a particular board, I don’t have the time to fully educate myself and I won’t be privy to all of the information needed to make logical choices. I realize I will have to trust my elected official to do what is in the best interest of the entity he or she represents. The better I know that person and his or her character, the more comfortable I am with that trust relationship.
Conservatively, in the past 20 years I have sat through over 1,000 meetings and witnessed thousands of decisions, large and small. In all that time, I can probably count on one hand the times when an elected official acted out of purely selfish interests and threw public good under the bus. There have been times when I felt an official could have been more informed but I truly believe that the people I have watched have worked hard to do the best job they can for the organization they have been asked to represent.
Certainly, we all have biases and we see the world through those biases. The beauty of a multi-person board is that an issue is looked at from several different angles. The best board members listen to and consider all of those angles.
I have no particular issues with any of the current crop of candidates for the school board at West Grand. I believe I have a general knowledge of how each of them feels about the basic topics of educational offerings, personnel and finance. All are law-abiding citizens who understand the political process. Is see no rogues in this group. For me, the decision is about which candidates can look the toughest issues in the face, gather as much objective data as possible and make the decisions that are in the best interests of the people they have been elected to represent.
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