Elected officials often forget they are servants of the public

Tue, 08/07/2007 - 4:07pm
By: Letters to the ...

I got a big chuckle from reading Terry Garlock’s latest column on candidates and politicians.

Garlock’s friend asked him to run for the Peachtree City council, saying, “You’ll shoot it straight because you don’t care how it plays to the public.” Garlock declined the invitation due to his self-proclaimed inability to cope with the vocal opposition.

Without a doubt, if you are willing to stand on principle, holding an elected office can be a tough ride. But, as students of history know, it has always been this way, and we are far better off because of the few men and women who chose to stand and face the overwhelming problems, special interests and corruption that stand in the doorway.

While most in politics choose to take the easy road, a select few will brave the arrows from powerful special interests and move their constituents in a better direction.

None other than the blessed George Washington – considered almost supernatural by people today – had to brave threats of impeachment and assassination for his support of John Jay’s treaty with England, which certainly averted a catastrophic war for our country. Washington’s successor, John Adams, was burned in effigy by his own party for refusing to engage in a ruinous war with France.

Harry Truman barely got through his time in office, and even his own wife thought he did not have the slightest chance of winning what became his famous narrow Election Day victory. Truman is now viewed by scholars as one of the most effective statesmen of the 20th century.

Ronald Reagan was widely portrayed as a warmonger, but he ended up playing an integral role in ending the Cold War. No matter what the press or the public threw at him, Reagan never abandoned his vision of a defeated communist regime.

Of course, there are always going to be some bad apples who pursue elected office for their own benefit. Plenty of mayors, governors and congressmen have gone to prison in the last decade. Likewise, there will always be private interests who will do almost anything to get government deals, decisions and favors. The ability of the elected official to resist those pressures and temptations while remaining true to his/her principles is what defines political courage.

The Government Accountability Office is telling anyone and everyone that Social Security and Medicare are going to crash around 2015, but we, the ignorantly content public, keep electing, year after year, the same phonies who lack the political courage to address the looming crisis. I think these “do-nothings” cost us more money than the bad apples in the long run.

I will have to respectfully disagree with Terry Garlock about the evils of the sometimes rancorous public commentary on elected officials in Peachtree City. Our city is incredibly unique and there are many who refuse to see that unique character of community wiped away for good. Unlike most cities, we truly have something worth fighting for.

Unfortunately, our city has used tax dollars in the past to buy garbage dumps from developer friends. Our police station will probably end up costing us twice what it should have by the time it is all over.

Public disclosure has been absent at times. We have had rotten sewer deals with local developers and bankers and lots of funds unaccounted for with the corrupt activity of the Development Authority costing the taxpayers millions of dollars.

We also have elected officials inviting big box development even though we have a publicly supported ordinance discouraging that type of development. A silent public is not recommended in these types of situations.

Special interests are prevalent in Peachtree City because there is a lot of money to be made here. I think James Madison hit the nail on the head when he said, “All men having power ought to be distrusted to a certain degree.” In elected office, you do not have to ask for unsavory activity; it comes looking for you.

Most witnessed my turn at the end of the blistering whip of public opinion. Looking back I can only say let the public debate continue to rage on as democracy dictates. I did not go into public office with blinders on and I knew good and well of the private agendas of the Direct PAC crowd and some of the former mayors.

When it came to issues like the disastrous TDK, the now failing SPLOST and additional forms of corruption which the private agendas supported, I was well aware that I was getting in the way of a significant revenue stream for a band that was used to getting its way.

In their efforts to suppress my factual commentary on their dishonest deeds, I was sued, arrested and had false state ethics charges filed against me. (A good rule of thumb to remember is when a group is desperately trying to squelch someone’s ability to speak out on things like the SPLOST and TDK, they are usually up to no good).

Obviously, sticking to your principles is no walk in the park on these occasions. (Another rule of thumb to remember is when a group wants to discredit you and your message, they will say you are crazy, spiteful or moving on a private agenda, but when you are subsequently proven right, they call you egotistical). So I will tell any candidate that determination and a sense of humor are essential qualities to possess.

Candidates should be honest and set the example. Do not tell the public you are going to cut taxes by 5 percent and then raise taxes every year after you are elected.

Do not cut the city employees’ compensation or fail to reduce taxes as promised and then counter with a 100 percent pay increase for yourself. That is a horrendous message to send.

In October of 2006, our current mayor said, “We’re pulling money out of reserves to balance the budget this year, and it doesn’t make good financial sense to consider salary increases for the mayor and council at this time.”

The council is still pulling money out of the reserves, but they are going to increase their salaries anyway. A significant chain of saying one thing and doing another has developed. Mixed messages get you in trouble and you lose the public’s trust.

A lot of candidates and elected officials have erased the term “public servant” from their memory banks. Put the welfare of the average citizens over and above yourself and the demands of the special interests. Listen to what people have to say.

Candidates should determine what the assets are in the community and vow to fight their best to save them. Likewise, candidates should determine what things have a negative impact on the community and provide some insights on how those impacts can be reversed. If you cannot accurately identify the assets and liabilities in the community, you are not ready to run for public office.

There is a lot to be said for institutional knowledge. The elected officials who have made the biggest mistakes proved to not have a fundamental understanding of the issue and its history. If you do not know anything about an issue, ask several people who do know. Institutional knowledge and a sense of history enable you to create a logical vision for the future.

Many local citizens have told me they want an honest leader who will not tell them whatever they want to hear and then do the opposite later. I know Terry Garlock and I think he would make a great candidate. True enough, public office is difficult for straight shooters, but then again, it is the straight shooters who take the challenges head-on and make the world a better place to live.

I have received a lot of phone calls asking if I am going to run for a council post this year. My reply has been I cannot participate this year. However, I am looking forward to seeing some straight shooters throw their hats in the ring.

Steve Brown

stevebrownptc (at) ureach.com

Peachtree City, Ga.

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