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May 31, 2004, 8:30 P.M.

Playing at Politics: We have an interesting situation developing in our local government here in Laconia, and it should have people paying attention. When, our Laconia city council couldnít agree on a budget, and some members walked out. Having supported the walkout of Texas democrats who opposed the Republican redistricting plan which was aimed at putting many of them out of office, I found it hard to be too tough on our recalcitrant counselors. What has followed however leads me to believe that the walkout was more a temper tantrum than a political strategy.

Since the walkout, the council has passed the budget presented by the Mayor, after the Council failed to come to an agreement on its own spending plan. That budget, I might add, was well crafted and logical in scope. In case no one noticed, it was also in keeping with the non-binding consensus of the council to keep the budget within a 1.5 percent increase. The Mayor's budget used savings in insurance premiums to fund portions of the budget and it allowed the School District to do the same. It also allowed some long needed municipal projects to go forward as well. In short, the Mayor did what the council could not; he moved the process ahead.

Counselors Cowan, Krahulic and Bolduc lost the vote over the Mayorís budget. They moved no amendments and they offered no concrete or viable alternatives so this loss was inevitable. What they did next was to attack the process. This tactic is divisive and counterproductive. It serves only to prolong a fight already lost and it serves to distract the community from its other pressing business. We should be moving on with issues like Bike Week, paving roads and growing our industrial base. Instead we choose to roll in the muck of accusation and argument. The City has sought and obtained an opinion regarding the legality and propriety of its actions. Those actions have been upheld and validated. The continued focus on perceived improper procedure is wasted energy.

My concern is that the recalcitrant three donít have it in them to move on. They donít understand that in politics as in life, you win some and you lose some. The idea is to maintain a good relationship with your fellow counselors, to respect them and their positions and to attempt to persuade them to the wisdom of your position in the future. Politics is about consensus and you cannot build consensus if you donít have open lines of communication. If you donít talk over issues with your fellow counselors before, between and during meetings, you canít even begin to move issues of importance to your constituents, or the city as a whole, forward if you canít get the votes. You canít begin to get the votes if you canít talk to other counsel members and persuade them of the strength of your position. You might even find that they have a few good ideas of their own.

As most of us who are not at the table see it, there is no major moral high ground issue here. It stinks that we had to get a budget the way we did, but not getting a budget would stink worse, especially when there was no good articulible reason why not. The fact that the council does not have line item control over the budget is a fact of life (and law). So what needed to happen was that the counselors needed to make their arguments for the total appropriation and move on. Itís just not the councilís job to build the districtís budget. Most people are not concerned about the fact that the budget was voted in the way that it was. In fact, most people donít know or donít care. In case anyone hasnít noticed, even if the procedure was wrong (which it was not) the net result might be a do-over with the same result. So what point are we trying to make here?

The only thing that I can see is politics of derisiveness, of negativity and of pessimism. What we need is some forward looking, progressive thinking positive energy aimed at addressing the growth facing the city. Where are the kids moving into all of these proposed developments going to go to school? Can the city services handle the influx of new homes? How do we intend to manage the cityís growth for the benefit of all of us? These are bigger questions than the council is currently asking because it is mired in minutia. The failure to come to the table with a plan or vision of your own, or without a strategy for working with your fellow councilors is wrong and does a disservice to the office that you hold.

Not only is the council at fault. We, the community, let all of this happen. There are lots of reasons why we donít get more involved, but when it comes down to it, none of them are good. At what point are the people in this city who want these critical questions answered going to start asking them, and start stepping up to run for office or to help in electing representatives who will look forward, and not back, to find the answers. I have heard the same voices talking about what the city canít be, what it was and what is wrong with it since I moved here in 1989. I prefer to dwell on where we can go, what we can be and what is good about this place that my family picked as our home. I hope others will choose to do the same. Together we can ensure that our elected representatives are working at politics, rather than playing at it.

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Copyright 2004 Edward Philpot

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