Look in the mirror

Change in city government should start with self-reflection

I’m starting with the man in the mirror.

I’m asking him to change his ways.

And no message could have been any clearer:

If you wanna make the world a better place,

Take a look at yourself, and then make a change.”

– Michael Jackson,

Man in the Mirror

 

Given the chance to vent, Chronicle readers recently gave the Augusta Commission the worst reviews imaginable.

Just resign and put us out of our misery, many said – and in many cases, they said it of the whole 10-member body.

We certainly understand the sentiment. The commission’s dysfunctionality and decorum have the community plainly disgusted. Too often they treat people who come before them, including city employees, like lowly serfs.

They seem never to look at themselves in the mirror, either. While degrading others for their work performance, the commission can’t seem to make a coherent decision on the city golf course or the bus service, to name two prickly issues.

But others need to look in the mirror too. Weren’t these 10 folks elected at some point by the voters?

If our elected officials are so beyond rehabilitation that they need to resign, what does that say about the people who put them there?

Are voters really making such bad decisions? If so, how? Are they getting bad information on the candidates? Or any information at all? What are they basing their votes on? The familiarity of names? Write-ups in the paper? Political endorsements?

Voting rates are abysmal in local races nationwide. What sense does it make for so many not to be voting and then to
lament the quality of officeholders?

Don’t free peoples ultimately get the kind of leaders we deserve?

In truth, this page finds it hard to believe our leaders are beyond hope. We wrote Sept. 1 that commissioners ought to consider bringing in a team-building leadership consultant; it’s nothing that highly successful businesses don’t do.

But personality clashes and indecorous behavior isn’t all that’s plaguing the Augusta Commission.

They’re also victims of a clunker of a government. It was set up under city-county consolidation in the 1990s to be maddeningly inefficient, with an even-number 10 commissioners and a six-vote majority required to pass anything, no matter how many members are present and voting. They’re elected from districts designed to produce five white and five black commissioners, lest either race gain an advantage. Presiding is a mayor with few actual powers. Looking on is a city administrator with 11 political bosses and no power to fire and hire department heads.

Other than that, it’s great!

Then you add in the extra toxic ingredient of race. While most Augustans get along fine, the commission chambers seems to be where past racial grievances backflow. Despite the clunky attempt to forestall it, there appears to be a lingering suspicion that one race might try to hoodwink the other, and vice versa.

None of these things is likely to change by merely tossing the current commissioners out on their stumps. Real change is needed, and not just in the form of city government; we’re talking about the kind that starts with each individual.

A deeply spiritual friend reminded us recently that Jesus once asked a sick man if he even wanted to be healed.

Perhaps we should ask that of Augusta – and the person in the mirror.

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