July 20, 2004 > Editorial: R*E*S*P*E*C*T
Aretha Franklin asked for it in her R&B single and the lyrics are something the Fremont City Council needs to take to heart. The Utility User Tax question has now entered a new phase - the bargain. Researchers, following the lead of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, talk about five phases of dying - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and the last, acceptance. It appears that the council is going through the throes of a similar process. Initially, the council and staff knew a problem existed but, even with drastic cuts, would not go the extra mile. Instead they waited and hoped for a miracle, complaining about Sacramento and, in essence, denying the ultimate reality. The next phase came at a recent city council meeting when anger and defiance were evident. The council as a unit was startled, defensive and downright nasty to messengers from the Irvington Business Association, The Fremont Chamber of Commerce and representatives of NUMMI and the Union Sanitary District.
From previous polling, the council was well aware that the citizenry is in no mood to pay more money to a city that is perceived as uncaring, wasteful and haughty. Past slights of speakers at city council meetings and the imperious nature of some staff and councilmembers has come home to roost. In a representative form of government, it is often left to those elected to make decisions. Most citizens are aware that there are usually at least two reasoned sides to an argument and those elected to make decisions will not always vote for their favored cause. However, listening to the community is essential and the perception of it is essential. The electorate has chances to not only voice an opinion but, in the voting booth, make a definitive statement. Failure to lead and engender trust and respect is politically fatal. People follow good leaders even when prospects are bleak. They have faith that a strong sense of purpose and a strong foundation of positive prior actions will ultimately lead them to success. Absent these qualities, requests by leadership will often be faced with indifference, or at worst, rebellion.
Procrastination has led to a huge chasm that the council hopes to bridge with a Utility User Tax. Instead of understanding early on that the electorate does not trust their leadership and coming to grips with this problem, the council is now faced with a daunting task. Bargaining from an 8% to a 6% tax doesn't get to the heart of the matter. When councilmembers realize that the debate is not so much about the amount of money but rather about the style of leadership, they will come closer to the truth and possibly salvage the city. The attempt by staff to bridge this gap is not effective when strong direction from elected leaders is required. Well intentioned graphs and charts are no substitute for committed people who live where they work and listen to and follow advice of their constituents. Decisions such as the selection of a developer for the Centerville Unified Site that defied the community are not the answer. Whether the developer ultimately proves capable and worthy of the selection is not the point. Credibility was the loser.
Arguments that salaries must be high in order to attract the "best and brightest" have some merit, but if you take such talk to its ultimate conclusion, only the highest paying enterprises in the world would have any bright and capable workers. The fact that in some cases, people are willing to accept less and work hard and effectively reflects other factors such management policies, working conditions and that elusive, "esprit de corps." Many entrepreneurs work exceptionally hard at their chosen profession without huge incomes. People are not always bought and paid for by whoever has the fattest wallet. Loyalty is given freely when deserved and withheld when not. Fremont has some very good employees, but there have been more than a few that have said, "No Thanks" to the ranks of the "best and brightest." Maybe it is time for the council to take a closer look at what is causing these defections and what hiring practices have been used in the past. Is the tail wagging the dog?
The final two stages of dying are "depression" and finally "acceptance." I hope we can skip the depression and move right on to acceptance. With acceptance comes the opportunity to do something about this problem. With a bit of contrition, the council may actually listen without anger or contempt and work with the electorate to fashion a solution for this dysfunctional system. As Aretha would say:
What you want baby I got it
What you need you know I got it
all I'm asking is for a little respect