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Lebanon Council insults voters
Nov 24, 2004 12:00 am
Let me get this straight – suddenly one morning, the Lebanon City Council woke up concerned about the voice of the people?
Of course I believe that. I also believe that on the 25th of next month, a fat man in a red suit is going to slide down my chimney with a bag full of gifts. I believe Bigfoot is alive and well in Cedar Forest State Park. I believe world peace is just around the corner. I even believe every single prisoner booked into the Wilson County Jail is greeted with a friendly smile, a kiss on the check and a fresh pair of warm pajamas.
The City Council and Mayor Don Fox would have us believe that they suddenly became so concerned about the will of the people that they jumped right into action – by voting to extend their own terms of office for a full 13 months. They publicly rationalized this move by saying they could increase voter turnout and save something like $30,000 by aligning the city's election with the November state and federal elections.
Somehow, though, they never mentioned the cost of all the salaries and benefits for the mayor, his assorted minions – known in city lingo as "department heads" – and the councilors themselves, which will run about $500,000 for a 13-month period.
As for voter turnout, well, the evidence suggests the issues and candidates have far more to do with that than a date on a calendar. We never seemed to have any problems pulling big turnout numbers back in the days when liquor referendums were up for a vote, did we? That tells me that if you give the people something they really care about then they'll turn out to vote no matter when you hold the election. Give them a few self-serving city politicians – all interested only in seeing that certain piggy snouts keep slurping from the taxpayer feeding trough – and they won't turn out to vote. It's that simple.
The supporters of this wildly suspicious move also didn't speak of the built-in political advantages of incumbency, something Fox himself mentioned on a recent radio broadcast. He and his get-along-at-all-costs city councilors just copped themselves 13 more months of this built-in political advantage, not to mention 13 more months of city salaries and benefits – like expensive new cars and superior health insurance packages – for themselves and their cronies.
Politically, it's pretty impressive. Fox and the architect of this measure, Ward 6's Kathy Warmath, certainly have a lot of political power right now, and they've shown they're not shy about using it. It's also interesting how each election cycle Warmath cries wolf about Fox being out to defeat her behind the scenes, then as soon as the votes are counted she's back to carrying his water.
And frankly, the rest of the councilors who supported this whole sham are no better, all of them always moaning and complaining about the mayor privately but none with the guts to stand up to him – or even his appointees – publicly. The result of a weak, no-backbone City Council is situations like this one, where rather than acting as any kind of check or balance against mayoral power they all end up on the same side, plotting together to get the things they really want – at the expense of the taxpayers.
But the single most insulting part of it, really, is they act like they're doing this for our own good, like they think we really should believe them when they say they're only concerned about voter turnout, about making sure the voices of the voters are heard.
If they're so concerned about the voices of the voters, why did they flatly reject moves to either hold a public hearing on the matter or put it to a vote by referendum? Yes, your City Council is very concerned about hearing the voices of the voters, all right. So much so that one of them reportedly implied he was willing to get physical with a citizen who showed up to criticize them. That sure sounds like a healthy respect for the First Amendment to me.
This thing was so well thought out nobody even made a call to the election commission, the only people that can legally certify any election anywhere in this county. It was brought up out of the clear blue sky by the Council's staunchest Republican on election night – the night of a Republican landslide in Wilson County. It tips the scales in favor of Fox and Warmath, who will each benefit politically from the conservatives who vote heavily in November elections but, curiously, don't get very involved in the August general elections. It buys a precious year for all those political supporters whose livelihoods depend on city government jobs. In short, it's all about politics and power. For councilors to even try to pretend that they're doing this for the good of the people is the single biggest insult I've yet to see voters take from their own leaders, and it's one I hope they answer loudly on election day – if the city ever has one again, that is.