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April 23, 2013 > Editorial: Courage of conviction

Editorial: Courage of conviction

It is often said that the mark of government is compromise and when such agreements are reached between dissenting parties, all come away a bit disgruntled, yet with a tinge of victory as well. In this country, usually, such understandings are not met with violence or, hopefully, physical or mental bullying. Admiration is reserved for those who persevere and move forward with the assets at hand and a determination to succeed. Courage of conviction in the "right" way to do things is a worthy quality, although without room for other points of view, it can quickly turn sour.

In the 1897 novel by Rudyard Kipling, followed by an Oscar Winning 1937 film performance by Spencer Tracy, Captains Courageous tells the tale of a spoiled child, Harvey, living a privileged life, who is suddenly removed from high society and a condescending environment to experience hard, honest work, wholly focused on the basic values of life. Although the lessons learned are filled with fear, belligerence and intransigence, slowly Harvey begins to understand the fallacy and frailty of vaporous lines drawn between layers of humanity.

In the same way, our communities are bound together by one constant theme, creating the best environment through efficient and meaningful efforts. Divisions and virtual lines of demarcation between citizens and their government are detrimental to our community health. Separation and isolation is contrary to the very idea of community, often the result of great intentions that have either been left unsupervised to institutionalize and harden into a brittle, unyielding behemoth. When government becomes estranged from the people it serves either through physical isolation, personal life or emotional detachment, a shock to the system is inevitable. In order to moderate this tendency, at least in cities and towns, elections of well-known neighbors determine who sits atop the pyramid of bureaucracy. In the purest sense, local government is closest to the people. As the group of constituents broadens, responsibility to the electorate becomes less clear.

Less populous towns and cities have an advantage as the connection between elected officials and voters is short and direct. Use of collective resources are typically more exposed to view although there have been some egregious exceptions (i.e. Bell, CA). In all communities, commissions and boards are used to strengthen the bond between citizens and government. It is here that motivated and civic-minded citizens are able to bring common sense and practical input, a role of giving advice and consent. Although such meetings may not be dramatic, they serve an important purpose and should not be dismissed by either bureaucrats or elected officials. When such bodies advise, there is usually wisdom in their actions that should not be dismissed. Councilmembers have selected these folks to guide them and without their efforts, a tendency to become removed from voters can become disastrous. Other elected bodies have something to offer as well - Board of Education, ACWD, Union Sanitary District, etc.

City Councils and Staff would be well served to revisit their own convictions and summon the courage to re-examine what led to public service. In the case of a recent distribution of Human Relations funds for social organizations, the community appeared united behind a recommendation by a City commission. Did the council have the courage to listen? Just as when they were faced with a difference of opinion between the Art Review Board and Staff, the ultimate decision should rest with the people. In Captains Courageous, spoiled and isolated Harvey learned his lesson through a major reality check. Too much separation from constituents is an artificial gap that will ultimately betray the community. Harvey learned his lesson, so can we.

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