On monkeywrenching city politics and why it's so dumb

Thursday, December 13, 2012

One of the most persistent as well as most frustrating aspects of covering City Council for the newspaper is watching in silence from the sidelines. (Perhaps silence is not the best word; one alderman complained that the keyboard of the laptop being used to type up the meetings by the reporter made too much noise and TV watchers at home were complaining. Now the typing is done in another corner of the room. That's the sounds of news being made, incidentally.)

No, the frustration comes from what James DeVito referred to the other night as Eureka's "bare knuckle politics," the kind that scare people off from wanting to have anything to do with being on council. You take the time to run for office, you win, you get paid diddly squat, and then when others on the council disagree with you, they SUE you?

Another source of frustration is the person who comes to meetings having read just enough of city or state code to kink things up. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Issues are broached based on half-knowledge, but when the city attorney (or a member of the Municipal League, which advises us on legal matters, or the guy from Game & Fish who came to explain how the deer hunt worked) explains what it means, or what can or can't be done, it doesn't matter. The monkeywrench-throwers just grab another wrench and keep on tossing them into the gears.

It's as if these people get an idea lodged in their heads and ... well, they are comparable in many ways to the current GOP in Washington. The will of the people doesn't seem to matter. Ideology trumps practicality. Nothing changes. It's their way or the highway, and they NEVER back down.

The final Eureka Springs City Council meeting of the year was far briefer than most -- about 90 minutes, which is about the length of practically every other city hall meeting ever, except for council, where three or four hours has been more typical. But even in what was a weirdly short meeting, and the last meeting of this particular council ever, one issue did raise its tired head one final time, and it took up a good chunk of the meeting before amounting to nothing.

This was a proposed ordinance by Aldermen Karen Lindblad and Lany Ballance to limit the number of police officers allowed on the force.

Though they tried and tried, for weeks, even months, to take direct control of the local police department by controlling the number of officers on the payroll (rather than simply dealing with the issue during the budget process, which is how things like that usually are done), they failed. Wiser heads prevailed, and the issue was pushed on to the incoming council, where it will die the death of other foolish projects, or be dealt with more professionally.

(By the way, the way you deal with the number of police officers, or firemen, or anybody else on the city payroll, is to decide what their departmental budgets are, which automatically limits how many people they can hire, and then you pass the budget by ordinance, and then the city is in compliance with state code.)

Lack of "professionalism," for lack of a better word, has been a huge problem. The same people who come up with these issues and dog them to death despite all rational feedback, also come to meetings far too often without their paperwork in a row, then claim not to know what's going on. Of course they don't. They aren't prepared. Everybody has a life outside the council chambers, but if you aren't prepared to take the time to know what's up, stay out of politics.

Finally, when you attack a person in public on TV and clearly show your rancor through your harshness, lack of manners, sulkiness, and muttering under your breath, you demean yourself and the office you hold and the entire process you are participating in. If you have personal agendas coming into the council and you haven't the character to rise above them, at least try to hide them better.

Anyway, it's over with for now. The good guys won, as far as we can tell, and the bad guys lost. Hopefully the next council will bring a little more decorum and a lot more common sense to the table when they meet in January. Cross your fingers.