Political longevity can be dangerous…to public
There is a tendency with those of us in the voting, taxpaying public to keep people in elective and/or appointive office, particularly if the officeholders are fairly non-controversial and give all the appearances of doing a good job.
Of ten, though, familiar it y breeds contempt. Unfortunately, that contempt is too frequently found in some officeholders and we, the voters-taxpayers, are the target of that insulting attitude.
Many years ago I went to a city of 7,000-8,000 to publish the weekly newspaper there. One of the first things my predecessor did was take me to city hall to meet the city manager. I’d already heard tales about this Prime Good Ol’ Boy (PGOB). Before accepting the job, I’d spent some time in that city quietly looking around and talking to people about general town topics and telling them I was thinking about moving there but not what my job would be.
My predecessor told me the PGOB (my term, not the guy I succeeded) was the power in town and the mayor and city council rubber-stamped whatever he wanted. PGOB had been city manager well over 30 years. My predecessor said I needed to meet PGOB.
In my visits to the town, while considering the job, I’d found there was some unrest and that a very recent election had placed some on the council who were not enamored of the city manager.
When we were ushered into the PGOB’s office and seated, he reared back in his luxurious executive chair, propped his cowboy boot-shod feet up on the desk and began to tell me about his “wonderful hobby” of raising a certain unique breed of livestock. Knowing a little about livestock, I knew raising these particular animals was an expensive hobby as underscored by those handtooled boots atop his desk. PGOB pontificated for a good 20 minutes about his livestock. He did it, he told us, for his “grandkids.” I thought, “No, you do it for you so you can brag and posture for visitors.” And, in my mind I really questioned how he could afford to raise expensive livestock, not only on that town’s managerial salary, but how could he devote the considerable time I knew it took to tend to those costly critters.
After, he’d told me his life’s story (which, I figured, my predecessor had memorized), he made a statement that galled and insulted me.
“Willis,” he drawled familiarly, “I hope we can have the same type of arrangement that me ‘n’ Ol’ Jimbo have and that’s I’ll tell you everything I’m gonna do after I’ve told my council. You can print it then.”
I looked at my predecessor, who was red-faced in embarrassment, and he managed a weak grin and averted my glance.
I did not respond to PGOB’s “hope.” Instead, I stood, looked at the city manager and said, “Sir, you can be guaranteed that we will cover everything the city does, in depth.” I wish I’d had my camera because I’d never seen a jaw drop that far.
As promised, we covered city hall news very thoroughly. Coupled with a new open-minded attitude on the city council, it became obvious the PGOB’s power was weakened considerably.
Within just a few months, PGOB decided tending to those special livestock was a lot more attractive than facing an open government council and a probing newspaper.
There was still enough PGOB sentiment on the council (coupled with the delight of ridding the city of him) that he was given a very lucrative retirement package that included a pretty special price for him to buy the luxurious pickup truck the city provided as his official vehicle.
That city got a fresh start with new attitudes on the council and, for a while, sunshine and openness prevailed. The retired city manager appropriately got some of his grandchildren’s livestock manure on those hand-tooled boots.