The anti-council

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 5, 2003

You say you never heard of such a thing? Well that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good idea. You could at least think about it.

Consider the system under which you operate today, seven citizens who are elected mainly on the basis of name recognition, representing over 65,000 residents. They don’t take intelligence tests, none of them have had to prove their ability to shepherd your tax dollars through the waiting pitfalls of waste and risk. Who knows who guides them through a year of activity, one person or thousands?

Example: Are we still hearing the thoughts of ex Tom Woodward via the larynx of Bobby Ralph? And when was the last time you were asked your opinion about anything, the last time you called your council member with advice, a suggestion, or a complaint?

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Each council member is a vulnerable person because they are expected to compromise on any issue before them and most of the time they are lead by Myles Standish having but one mind and a short time left to build a legacy. Like gypsies, managers eventually move on or retire, which is why we have assistant managers and/or &uot;searches&uot; to fill the shoes.

During his tenure someone at a higher, say regional, level was planting seeds in his brain, or he listened to other city managers, or he read things. He was as inventive and creative as he desired, just as right and just as wrong but he served as a funnel to the 14 ears owned by council members.

And don’t think he doesn’t know the &uot;ticks&uot; of his seven. Whether council members were groupies or staunch individualists, he knew how to create his majority, this to his credit. Someone must be in a position to point out the greater good or all seven would be bent mainly on pork and being re-elected. But sometimes, during resume building time, city managers point out what they merely suspect is the greater good. For that reason you must have in place a council astute enough to recognize the difference. And if you don’t, then perhaps you also have need of an anti-council.

I don’t suppose state laws even allow a second elected body even though we do have such an animal up in Washington. A House and a Senate. It’s designed as a kind of double check that sorts out the grain from the chaff. But, unfortunately, up there they are all programmed to add more chaff. That’s how they get re-elected. And we don’t need a rubber stamp body at the Suffolk level, we have that too often now in our council, again pointing out the need for an anti-council.

So, now that we are burying or praising Myles, is it time to put together a counteracting force, a group of people educated, successful at what they do, willing to serve, willing to excuse themselves from any issue that might be beneficial to them, and willing to stick out their necks?

Impossible you say, even if that force is willing to eliminate by majority vote any member too well connected to a particular issue. Note this is not a prerequisite to running for council, but it must be so for volunteer membership in the double check anti-council. Is such an organization essential or do we continue to leave it all up to an all-powerful seven? Those are your dollars they are spending. Give it some thought.

Most citizens are willing to go along with just about anything council does because they have little interest anyway, or are willing to leave it to them, or believe their opinion wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans. You can almost tell by election results that not too many people feel they can or should play a part in their local government. They just go along with their lives hoping for the best, not necessarily content, but willing to line up with the rest of the sheep.

They believe council was elected by the people to represent the people and are doing the best they can under the circumstances. But there is also the feeling among many that even the council could benefit from having a non-partial group of citizens to turn to for confirmation. Not necessarily adversarial, just there to survey council action to see if what they did really fits, or if what they intend to do makes sense.

I will bet money you have just such a person in mind. So tell us, even if it’s you.

Robert Pocklington lives in Suffolk and is a regular News-Herald columnist.