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Leaders must lead by example

Posted 5/12/15


Why can’t we all just work together? Why can’t we move forward and stop dwelling on the sins of the past? These are very appropriate and timely questions that I hear asked repeatedly about the political atmosphere in the Borough of …

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Leaders must lead by example


Why can’t we all just work together? Why can’t we move forward and stop dwelling on the sins of the past? These are very appropriate and timely questions that I hear asked repeatedly about the political atmosphere in the Borough of Middletown.


Contrary to popular belief, the answers to these questions are far from easy to ascertain. The political battles being fought today stem from disputes and differences of opinion that have roots dating back for decades – roots that have grown so deep that nothing anyone can say or do is going to help change the situation. The only way to instill real, positive change is to replace the old with the new and start fresh.


I have debated for a long time on whether or not to write this, as I know it will be misconstrued by some as a political attack when, in fact, it’s a plea for something to change.


The reason I ran for Middletown Borough Council last year was not because I wanted to stick my feet in the muddy waters of politics. It also wasn’t because I was looking for a venue to go to twice a month to fight and argue about things that shouldn’t need to be argued about. I ran because I thought I could help bring my fractured hometown back from the brink of collapse.


I was very naive to think that bringing the two sides of the spectrum together to accomplish positive things could easily be done. After more than a year of trying to work together, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way things will be different is if we put different people in charge.


Before you begin to think that this is my way of saying that I want to be in charge, think again. What I really want is a leader who will lead by example and treat others with the respect they deserve.


Andrew Carnegie once said, “No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit for doing it.” In short, we are all a team. This includes council, borough management, borough employees, the police and fire departments, etc. Each of these groups has an investment in our town and is directly affected by the important decisions that are being made.


My problem with the current leadership is that they are not taking into account each of these groups when they make decisions. Instead of looking at the big picture, they focus their energy on big, name-worthy projects that will get their names in the paper. While the Streetscape Project and other similar projects may, in fact, be needed, that doesn’t mean that we should focus all of our attention and energy on them and forget about the smaller issues that people have to deal with every day. That’s not right.


It may be difficult for people who aren’t as involved in the day-to-day happenings to understand my frustration, so I’ll give a short example.


As some may know, I am the chairman of council’s finance committee. I have asked numerous times for monthly expense reports to be delivered to myself as well as the rest of council so that everyone can get a clear understanding as to where our money is being spent. If we don’t have a good grip on where we spend taxpayers' money, how can we even attempt to find ways to make our government more efficient?


After months of constant badgering for the information, I finally received two months’ worth of reports. I thought that maybe things were changing and we would start to receive the information on an ongoing basis – but I was wrong: We haven’t received anything since. It’s extremely embarrassing when the chairman of the finance committee can’t obtain information about the finances of the borough he represents.


Everyone can admit that right now, the borough has a perception problem. We are looked at by outsiders as a joke and are constantly the centerpiece of negative news stories. In my short time in office, the current leadership has managed to upset a state representative, a state senator and senior management-level employees of state government. This is inexcusable and, frankly, can’t be tolerated.


If we truly want to turn things around, we will need all of the help that we can get, which includes help from the state and the county. The damaged relationships that the leadership has cultured are just another reason why we need to make a strong and definitive change to turn the tide.


Before the bashing begins, let me say that I think the current majority has done some good things during their time in office. For example, our applications for grant funding from the state and county are up substantially, and on numerous occasions we have been awarded money to spend on various projects. I wish good things like this that they have done could be coupled with improvement on the other things they haven’t. Unfortunately, I have yet to see any improvement and I still feel as though there are people on council that don’t care what the people who elected them think.


When you are serving the interests of an entire town, it’s unfair to cherry pick certain things you’re interested in and forget about the rest. That’s not how public service and leadership works.


The borough is at a critical point in its revival. I, for one, refuse to stand idly by while people are forgotten about and treated unfairly. It is my sincere hope that one way or another, things change.

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I will continue to do my best and give my all for the people who elected me, and I hope that others will begin to believe as I do – that there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel. To get there, things have to drastically change – and I’m confident that they can and will.  


                            Benjamin Kapenstein


The writer is a member of Middletown Borough Council representing the Second Ward.