Who’s to blame when public officials fail us?

Tue, 06/23/2009 - 3:34pm
By: Letters to the ...

What is it that bothers us concerning the recent arrest of a county commissioner for illegal drug use while driving? Is it the betrayal of public trust or is it something more fundamental?

There is no debate that it is outrageous that Commissioner [Robert] Horgan believes that he should continue in his current capacity.

And we all know, including Mr. Horgan, that it is a just a matter of time before he is sanctioned and thrown out of office.

However, I believe that like all things that appear simple, there is an underlying principle that is bothering us concerning this incident.

This example of a lack of integrity along with many more at the state and federal levels shakes our fundamental belief that our democracy is sound and working effectively. It challenges our belief that if we simply let the system work we will have representatives of high moral character that respect the rule of law. [That] if we simply vote we will elect the right person to represent us and that these elected officials will represent our interests fairly and honestly.

The arrest of Mr. Horgan brings it all home to us. Our world is not as simple as we would like it to be. All men who put themselves up for public election are not what they seem, that they are not men of virtue and good character.

We become indignant that they turn out to have flaws and threaten our children, communities, and country with their bad example. We expect more from our elected officials, but are they at fault when they fail to live up to our expectations?

In essence, our elected officials ultimately reflect our neglect and our lack of participation in the political process.

We are coconspirators in electing representatives that represent special interests, or are fatally flawed. We secretly vote blindly without full knowledge of where the candidates stand.

Sometimes the only time we have seen the name of a candidate is in the voting booth. We go by what our neighbor says, or some sign in a yard. In fact, we know virtually nothing about the candidates, but we console ourselves in saying that we voted. We participated, but have we really?

Would you hire someone this way? Not knowing anything about the person or their background? If our schools fail, it is due in large part based on the quality of the people we elect to run the schools.

Likewise, if our county government fails, it is in large measure due to our neglect.

You can take the concept of civic neglect all the way up to the national level. Democracy for better or for worse is a reflection of our priorities and ultimately our values.

I am not suggesting that we should try to elect only saints — there are too few of them in the world — but I am suggesting that even though we are all flawed, there are people of good character in the world, virtuous people.

While we can decry the behavior of Mr. Horgan, is he not a reflection of our lack of involvement in the political process?

So, what can we do to keep our government sound? Well, first, we can call for more transparency in government.

Our elected representatives must make open and transparent government a priority. They must embrace the notion that an open government improves citizen participation in the political process. It gives citizens information to make better decisions on who should represent them. This is an essential issue that needs to be addressed by our county commission.

Secondly, we should develop a healthy appetite for a culture of accountability. We should call representatives out on the issues and make them accountable. We should do this by educating ourselves on where our elected officials stand, engage them in discussion and debate. In essence make them take a stand on the issues.

In the end, if we believe they are not representing our interests, then we vote them out of office and find someone who will. We should not simply trust someone else to do this for us.

Finally, transparency and accountability can only be achieved by people committed to individual integrity. Look around you and you will find honest, hard-working citizens of good character. Encourage them to run for office, get behind them and support their candidacy. This is part of being a good citizen.

Involve yourself in the political process by improving your knowledge of the candidates and your elected officials. Are they virtuous people or people that are serving their own interest?

As a start, find out if they support transparency in government, [and] do they show it through their actions and not just words? Do this at every level of government, and start with our county commissioners.

Do all of this because you know it’s the right thing to do. Do it for your children, do it for your community, and most importantly, do it for yourself.

James Wingo

Peachtree City, Ga.

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