By Scott Robertson
Just a few thoughts from the very, very long county commission meeting last week.
First, in this space a week ago, I commended both sides in the traditional marriage vote debate for the relatively dignified way they handled themselves during the protracted proceedings. The fact that public comment lasted three hours only makes the fact there were no back and forth shouting matches or other uncivilized displays of enmity more impressive. As I wrote last week, citizens had opportunities to goad each other gratuitously. They rarely did, and the other side, with rare exceptions, didn’t take the bait when it was offered. So too, did commissioners resist playing to the crowd, and baiting each other.
Since writing that, I have received calls and have been criticized online for allegedly having presented a “cleaned-up” or “politically correct” version of what happened. I did not.
A gentleman who called my office this week let me know that he had been offended by the “unrepentant” way some who opposed his view “carried on.” On social media, a woman from the other side of the argument called me politically correct because she had been hurt by some of the characterizations ascribed by the other side. I never said, “Nobody’s feelings were hurt and at the end everybody got in a big circle and sang
The fact is that in this day and age, when every conflict is played as only having two sides, both of which are absolute, and people invest themselves wholly in one point of view, feelings are more likely than ever to get hurt.
I believe some people went into that chamber with the idea of having their feelings hurt atop their list of things to do. They knew they would be in close contact with people who disagree with them and they were all but eager to get first-hand experience in demonizing the opposition.
But here’s the rub. The worst of the lot on both sides said very little compared to what could have been said. And the vast majority – and that term is not hyperbole – the vast majority, sat quietly and listened to what the other side had to say. I stand by last week’s column. Those who wanted to be offended at the meeting may have been offended by the column. So be it. Most of the citizens in attendance were grown up enough to handle their own emotions in a setting that called for adult behavior. And in that room, on that night, even when they were offended, adults held the room.
Flying almost under the radar after the long public comment session was the fact that several other important items were decided. The one that has received the most media attention was the reapportionment of the county commission districts. The commission had previously voted to cut its own size from 25 to 15, and to have one commissioner per district. Last Monday night/Tuesday morning, the map of those districts was approved by the full commission. Those who argued against the map generally argued on one of three bases: that there was an unnecessary cost involved, that reapportionment is a bad idea in the first place, or that it was only being done because several commissioners had run for election on a promise to do it.
In the end, those arguments failed. First, while there will be the cost of mailing to each voter a card letting them know in what district they will now be voting, it is likely the number of voting precincts can now be lessened, making the cost of elections go down in perpetuity, while the number of commissioners being paid drops by 40 percent, also in perpetuity. As for reapportionment being a bad idea, well, as the movies say, that train has sailed. The commission had already voted to cut its size and reapportion the districts. The only thing being voted on was the map. Finally, the idea that, “you’re just voting to do that because you made a campaign promise” is a criticism amazes me. If the voters elect you to do something, you should only be criticized if you don’t do it.