The City Council considered as a bad game of Dungeons & Dragons

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Watching the Eureka Springs City Council in action is a lot like playing Dungeons & Dragons when I was a young college nerd 30 years ago.

You have the Dungeon Master (DM), who referees the action, i.e., the mayor, and you have the "storyline" the players are to follow through castles and caves, in this case called the meeting agenda.

And then you have the players.

In D & D, there are different moral alignments you get to choose for your dwarf fighter or your elfin mage or your whatever. You can be good, neutral or evil, and you can be chaotic or lawful. These alignments help you decide how your character should act in a given situation.

There are no evil characters on city council, but there are some very chaotic ones, and therein lies the problem. Instead of trying to help their teammates defeat the dragon and win the gold, some players spend all their time trying to outsmart the DM and subvert the game into continual dead ends, based on what certainly look like personal agendas. That's part of being chaotic, whether you're also good, neutral or evil.

Recent meetings have all followed this pattern, particularly on the issue of the in-town deer hunt, this season's b'te noire (that's French for "obsessive nightmare.") The most recent meeting was no different. As Alderman James DeVito put it so succinctly, the only way to judge the intent of the people is their vote. To second-guess that vote subverts the democratic process. Period.

The counter-argument has always been that what the voters voted for is not what they got, that the wording on the ballot was confusing, and as a result of phone calls from angry constituents, the aldermen who are struggling so hard to bring a halt to the hunt feel they are representing their constituency by so doing.

Again, DeVito nailed it when he pointed out the number of callers complaining about the hunt now are only a tiny proportion of the voters who chose whether or not to approve the hunt in the first place. It's true the squeaky wheel often gets the grease, but those relatively few calls are not statistically significant, so to speak.

City Attorney Tim Weaver tried to keep the council from driving more nails into its own coffin by pointing out the council approved doing the latter portion of the hunt at their Aug. 3 meeting, and therefore when Aldermen Lany Ballance and Karen Lindblad put the motion on the table to go forward with the deer hunt at a later meeting so they could let it die on the table, they acted improperly.

If they had any sense, they would've licked their wounds and accepted the partial victory. If you don't want a deer hunt, half a deer hunt is better than the whole thing as originally planned. Instead, TV viewers were subjected to more waffling, whining, mumbled sarcasm, and requests to Weaver on how to coach them on wording so they could shoot it down next time, etc. (The request was not put in that form, but that's what it meant.)

Except for one resident who came forward to "speak for the deer" and let it go at that, virtually all public comments during the meeting were made by those who felt betrayed by having their votes overturned. Hyperbole is common on both sides of the microphone during meetings, and this one was no different, with accusations of nonfeasance, malfeasance and misfeasance hurled at those who had stalled the hunt.

Some on council seemed surprised and hurt by these charges, their argument being they were not deliberately trying to subvert anything, only to represent their constituency.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

As with D & D, council sessions are long, arduous, continually sidetracked, and full of traps and giant spiders. But the treasure in this case is far more than imaginary piles of gold. It is the will of the people, expressed by legal vote. Possible is better than perfect. Give your constituency more credit than you have been, council. You don't have to be a carpenter to recognize a table with a crooked leg. Our council is wobbling pretty badly at the moment. And this isn't really a game at all.