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August 13, 2008 > Editorial: Who will speak for us?

Editorial: Who will speak for us?

Candidates for local elected office have now filed their paperwork and clerks are busy checking to make sure all the required elements have been fulfilled. November elections will determine who will represent us in a myriad of elected public policy-making positions including city councils and board membership.

Among those who have submitted their qualifications for public inspection are incumbents who must answer for past decisions and new faces that deserve scrutiny of their qualifications and talents. In many cases, compensation is hardly a motivating factor and exposure to the glaring light of public debate can be daunting. So why do they do it?

Motivating factors and their combinations defy easy explanation and are probably not well understood, even by the candidates themselves. There are certainly those who feel a "civic duty" to help their community but to leave things at that level of simplicity is wholly inadequate. Each candidate has his or her own reasons. Even when candidate motivation is tinged with less desirable qualities such as personal power and political gain, the result can still be positive for the community.

Many years ago, I attended a management meeting in which the speaker noted that motivation in business could be narrowed to three primary factors: power, prestige and money. Social scientists would probably surround these words with elaborate definitions and psychobabble, but they might essentially agree that personal motivation is enhanced by recognition of worth - internal and external. It is a rare individual that can exist outside of a social realm, completely divorced from the praise of peers.

Elevation by others to a position of respect and perceived good judgment is a high honor that can be simultaneously exhilarating and intimidating. It is this lure that often represents the ultimate gain of public office. The public, however, does not elect individuals for such qualities so this part of the resume is suppressed in favor of a more acceptable platform. No matter what the motivation to seek elected office, the result of such elections can either elevate all of us along with successful candidates or deflate us just as surely as poor leadership sets the stage for ruin.

Elections can showcase candidates who have proven their worth through actions and accomplishments and others who have demonstrated less satisfactory results. Whether through benign deficiency or the "Peter Principal" which observes that employees - in this case, public officials - can rise to a level of incompetence, inept officials not only hinder but can actively interfere with the public welfare.

It is not enough to claim incumbency or alternatively, a fresh approach; the content of character and intellect must also be weighed. Public trust and confidence is essential to effective government and must be an integral part of the partnership between constituents, elected officials and staff positions. A failure in any part of this structure is an invitation to disaster.

During the next few months, signs, slogans and pamphlets will begin to appear as candidates attempt to lure voters away from their usual pursuits and ingrain a name or message indelibly. As this process unfolds, this newspaper will probe and ask questions, to inspect the quality of character and intellectual content of candidates in our geographical area. TCV does not have a policy of back room, secretive "star chamber" grilling and subsequent promotion of particular candidates. Instead, questions and answers will be revealed for public inspection to create an informed electorate.

Now that the candidate filing period has ended, those who have acted on their intention to run for office will be given the opportunity to speak to TCV readers. Within the next few weeks, a series of interviews will begin to ask candidates about their plans and aspirations. It is my hope that each of you will do your civic due diligence by reading these interviews carefully and think about the leadership qualities we need for a successful future. It is up to each voter to decide who will speak for us.

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