March 13, 2010
How disinterested voters hand their town over to corrupt and controlling city employees.
The ballots are in. Grants Pass has a legitimately elected council once again. Twenty-eight percent of registered voters participated in the election, and we finally found the real culprit: Voter Apathy.
If you just tuned in, this column has been observing the political events in Grants Pass, Oregon, in the wake of the unprecedented recall of five city councilors; followed by the unprecedented personal appointing of five interim councilors by the mayor; and finally the loathsome accomplishments of the appointed quorum of councilors in their twenty-five weeks in office.
Now, at long last, the special election has taken place and five legitimately elected councilors are soon to sit in the broad padded chairs.
The big story, however, is not who got elected, but who turned out to vote – almost nobody: Twenty-eight percent. So now this writer turns his wrath from the dubious practices of city hall to the ever-reliable apathetic voter. Plain and simple: Grants Pass, you get what you deserve.
As one would expect after witnessing the town's clever and powerful political machine recall five councilors at once, the applicants for candidacy were practically non-existent. After all, who wants to do the hard work of getting elected just to see it overturned by the pitbull of unelected power?
When the applications first opened for city council, it looked as if there might not even be enough to fill the seats. The political atmosphere was tense and scary following the recall. People were walking on eggshells. The newspaper who had been highly instrumental in the success of the recall, then put out a sheepish plea for applicants. Following that, a sufficient number of applications trickled in. I hope I'm not alone in finding it obvious the type of character who then stepped forward to run for councilor: A person who initially wasn't going to run, but decided to run when they saw there would be little or no competition.
By the same token, the voters have been majorly insulted. They have recently elected five councilors to office only to see them recalled on nefarious charges. So why vote?
Now I must put this question out to the reader: Do you realize that the scenario spelled out above - the wimpy, waffley applicant for council, combined with the disinterested voter — is a marvelous institutional habitat for those who would exploit the American system? - for those who see the personal advantage of placing themselves near monstrous cauldrons of tax money - for those who enjoy, but are not deserving of power.
I have to wonder if anyone sees this foundational fact – and please rip me to shreds if I'm wrong. In this day and age, to work for the government is one of the sweetest, cushiest jobs on the market. This is flagrantly obvious in our economically challenged rural town of thirty thousand. The average government worker here has salary, benefits, job security, and retirement – all in figures well above his peers in the private sector. Certainly, the founding fathers could never have imagined such a thing. Their memories were fresh with the tyrannies of European empires. They couldn't imagine that a human would ever pass up a chance to vote. They couldn't fathom lack of interest. They couldn't conceive that the constitutional criterion called Liberty could ever give way to a system of bureaucracies and career politicians. They couldn't imagine that one day in America, to work for the government would be a job laden with high salary, benefits, retirement plans and job security. But here we are folks – it's 2010.
Okay, back to Grants Pass. Grants Pass voters, do you know that the city council is the spirit, mind and money decider in your town? In simpler language: The boss. This is a lesson of Democracy 1, but very few realize it. You may not understand why your utility bills or property tax bills keep going up regardless of all other values declining. I'll give you a hint: High salaries and benefit packages of government workers have to be paid somehow – and are guaranteed to be paid (probably even raised) through economic downturn. Nice deal, eh?
The five councilors that were recalled, were actually in the process of cutting non-essential government costs in our city. Hopefully I'm not the only one that saw that was the very reason for the recall. When superfluous fat is being trimmed away from government, there are those who start feeling extremely insecure. It is no secret in Grants Pass that the recall was initiated from within the established bureaucracy of city hall.
The five councilors who were elected, then recalled, were actually operating according to the charter. They were being the boss that the charter provides them to be. They were elected to be boss, and they were doing what they campaigned to do. The Grants Pass payroll elite had never seen this before. They had always controlled their council with favored candidates, special appointments, bloc voting and low voter turnouts.
Oops. Did I say low voter turnout? Let's get back on subject.
Grants Pass, you've done it again. First, the voters did not come out to protect the councilors who were actually looking out for the people. Now a pathetic 28% shows up for the current election? All I can say is, you get what you deserve.
Voter apathy paved the way five months ago for a carte blanche appointment of five (a quorum) "buddy" councilors. Let's look at what they accomplished in their short time in office: 1) The voter's pamphlet was cancelled. (Get it? Low turnout.); 2) History was rewritten, saying city manager David Frasher was not fired, but resigned – a lie, through and through; (Frasher now carries this falsification on his resume) 3) A decrease in utility bill rate engineered by the recalled council was cancelled; 4) Performance audits on the city offices called for and budgeted by recalled council were cancelled behind closed doors (this is extremely telling); 5) An ambitious park plan to the tune of $90 million was passed. Who will pay for this? 6) Media that have been too critical (read truthful) about what goes on were barred from meetings. And the list goes on.
All the above will reflect on bills you and your children pay in the future. Property tax bills, water and sewer bills are primarily the way they get into your pockets. All this out of voter apathy!
A letter appeared in the local paper warning against voting for a "bloc" of any kind in the current election. According to the letter, bloc voting was what got us in trouble last time. Obviously local insiders are very concerned about this, for the ultimately-to-be-recalled councilors had banned together in their campaigns claiming they would battle corruption and overspending in city hall. The voters went for it (voter turnout was pretty good on this one. Some speculate that it was because it was coupled with a presidential ballot). Four candidates were elected possibly as a result of a widely circulated poster that showed the four of them unified in solidarity — a bloc.
Now back to the letter. The writer is dead certain that the voting public should be fearful of blocs, then somewhat naively puts his foot in his mouth by declaring his allegiance to the public servants who are "police, firefighters, road-maintenance, water and sewage workers, parks and recreation workers, city staff and courthouse workers." Here, he has succinctly identified his own bloc — the bloc that initiated and succeeded in recalling five councilors. A tremendous fear had gone through the government workers network that one could lose one's job with these councilors in place. In one Chamber of Commerce meeting of over a hundred people, it was implied by a high ranking insider that the newly elected councilors were taking over Grants Pass like the Nazis took over Germany. Yet to this day, there is not one tangible charge attributable as a real reason for the recall. It was carried out entirely by vague charges, innuendo, gossip, and most importantly that government employee voting bloc.
Unfortunately, though, as much as I can point out insidious wrongdoings - it was still voter apathy that let it happen!
I must interject here before I get clobbered over the head by common sense that I fully realize the value of a good employee whether they work for me, you, or for the government. The problem is not that all government workers are inadequate. The problem is that there has become a subtly tyrannical attitude - for the most part in the top offices in the city - that they run things in this town. And actually they are right – voter apathy assures it.
As could be expected, the main editorial in our Daily Courier – the town's one and only newspaper which is little more than an arm of city hall - was falling all over itself about how "bloc -head" mentality was thoroughly defeated this time and how the status quo was once again in place. The Courier congratulated itself and the Chamber of Commerce for recommending the winners, while conveniently forgetting to mention that that they were both hugely instrumental in forging the success of the recall.
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The insider interests – the prevailing power bloc of Grants Pass – have had their way again. A disparate group of non-threatening, properly-connected councilors have taken the reins. They, the bosses, will start doing the bidding of the controlling city staff, the employees. Imagine a business like that. And, who knows, perhaps at some point one of the councilors will stand up and cry, "This organization is obscenely corrupt!" Then a recall will be hastily arranged and the voters will again fail to turn out. We're letting the precious American ideal slip through our fingers.
© 2010 Bernie Conrad - All Rights Reserved
Bernie Conrad was born in San Diego, CA, 1944. Attended College at University of California Santa Barbara and Art Center College of Design, Los Angeles. Served in US Army Reserves 1965 -1971. Has worked primarily at building renovation and property improvement. Has worked extensively and tutored privately in art and woodcarving.
My purpose in writing is not political or religious. I feel the time has come to enlist in the war between right and wrong. I do not claim a background of specialization other than a love of my family, my fellow man and the American pursuit of happiness. There has been an unquestionable downturn in the character and quality of life within my country - within my lifetime. I see numerous causes for this phenomenon. These causes I identify as the enemy. To speak out against them is to fight for my country. I have gotten too old for the sword so I shall take up the pen. It is a privilege to live in a country where I may do this. It is a shame to see our own citizens unaware of this blessing.