Two years ago, I made a very difficult decision. I chose to run for a position on Middletown Borough Council. I didn’t do it for power. I didn’t do it for influence. I certainly didn’t do it for fun. I did it for the future.
I did it because all too often I found myself bemoaning our local government and complaining about how things were done, why they were done and what should be done. Recognizing that all my talk could accomplish nothing, I made the decision to take an active part in the process of governing.
I had optimism, idealism and righteousness on my side. I had support from family, friends and fortunately, the voters. As I sit here two years later on the cusp of a movement for change, I reflect on the reality of public service and the role of the elected official.
Early in the process as a candidate, I learned that I would have to withstand personal attacks on myself and my family. I learned that righteousness is relative, idealism is naive and optimism is fragile.
These were important and necessary lessons. They toughened me up and opened my eyes to the hostility, fear and desperation of those whose power is challenged by new ideas, different styles and independent thought. I wish I could say it prepared me for my experience as a Middletown Borough councilor, but that would not be the truth. It did, however, enlighten me as to what I would face in my new role.
I have served on council since January 2014. It has proven to be a difficult and frustrating challenge.
It is not for the faint of heart or weak of spirit. It is not for the easily swayed or easily satisfied. It is not for the egotists or the power hungry. It is for those with the understanding that everything done is done for the people they serve. Agree with them, disagree with them, like them, hate them, understand them, misunderstand them – none of it matters. The one and only thing that matters is that their elected officials respect them.
The people we serve have the right to be included in the decision-making. The government works for them; they do not work for the government. They have the undeniable right to be heard, but even more importantly they should have the guarantee that their concerns will be listened to and addressed.
It is impossible for every decision made by a government body to be pleasing and acceptable to all. It is often the case that unpopular decisions will be made, controversial choices will occur – and these will all be based on the information acquired by the body from many sources, not all of which are available to the general public. Maybe I do have some idealism left after all, because I believe that sharing information, listening to constituents, conversing with them and validating them is good government, representative of the people even when the decisions are unpopular or the vote is contrary to what was hoped.
Our government from the top down is designed to include the people in both the process and the product of decision-making, policy and procedure development, and planning for the future for this and all the generations that follow us.
It is a sad but true fact that most Americans do not trust politicians and the government entities they populate. This is why many people try to disassociate themselves from the political process and deny that they are politicians or insiders. The truth of the matter is if you are in a position on a government body – whether it’s a council, township, school board, commission, legislative house, etc. – you are a politician, because you have chosen to run for a political office and you have been elected to do so by the power of the people.
The definition of a politician is: “A politician, political leader or political figure is a person involved in influencing public policy and decision-making. They create or propose laws that further the general interest of the public.” It is interesting to me that nowhere in that or any other definition I have seen is the description of a politician as someone who acts to gain an advantage for themselves. Of course, there are many politicians who do this, just as there are many supervisors, CEOs, directors and managers who do the same thing. They just have a smaller audience.
Those kind of politicians give those with the better motives a bad name. Those who pretend to be what they are not and those who state that politics is not important or does not matter are lying. Politics is the driving force behind, in front of and all around the government spectrum, so please give it its due. It matters, and we should care about it because it impacts how and why government works.
I truly believe that the people of Middletown want a government body that hears their concerns, represents their needs, respects their ideas and makes its decisions based on the general interests of the people it serves. I believe they want representatives who do not hold them in contempt but rather welcome their questions, requests and opinions.
I believe that when public servants respects their constituents, their constituents will respect them in return, even when they do not always agree with them.
The public has the right to know what their elected officials think, their positions on relevant topics, their voting record, their plans for the future. Arm yourself with that information as you head to the polls on May 19 and then vote for those you respect and trust. Vote for those who respect and trust you.
Remember: Your vote could be the one that changes the direction of Middletown.
The writer is a member of Middletown Borough Council representing the Second Ward.