TURMOIL HERE? We Must Guard Against Vitriolic Politics in Local Government
From "Deep Throat" in Nixon Era to "Deep State" Today
A series of shifts in local government and school leadership locally raise red flags about national political turmoil sweeping down to Main Street.
If the early days of the new administration in Washington are any indication, we are in for a long and damaging fight that one pundit has written: "gets more personal and political every day."
We seem to be distracted by charges, counter-charges, leaks and investigations and who is wielding power rather than focusing on protecting our nation and putting people back to work.
This is not trivial stuff, folks. U.S. Rep. Steve King, Republican of Iowa, has just written on Twitter that Trump can only save his Presidency by immediately firing all of the government officials appointed by Barack Obama.
"DonaldTrump needs to purge Leftists from executive branch before disloyal, illegal & treasonist acts sink us. https://t.co/o1DYtgA7aL -- Steve King
It seems we have not progressed far from the "Deep Throat" revelations of the Nixon era to the "Deep State" alleged by Washington conspiracy theorists, pointing to layers of unelected officials who stay on from one administration to the other.
If you never read the history of the French Revolution, it might be worthwhile to do so now and see the lengths this kind of government infighting can go to. "Off with their heads!" might be the next political threat.
The seeds of this current national feud go back decades and some, unfortunately, have a racist tinge. Some analysts say we have never gotten over the Civil War in some quarters of our society. My 20 years of research on James G. Birney showed that age-old animosities over race and class persist for generations. Could it still be affecting our way of life lo these 152 years since the war ended in 1865? Maybe so.
Birney was an advocate for all oppressed peoples, not just blacks. His crusade actually began with providing legal representation to Native Americans being dispossessed of their lands in Georgia and Alabama. As an assistant attorney general of Alabama, he quashed a murder ring. As mayor of Huntsville, he opposed the liquor interests. And he encouraged religion and schools, just as he did in Bay City in the 1840s.
I have just written a book that deals in part about how the Catholic and Protestant missionaries in Northern Michigan in the 1600s and 1700s laid the foundation for stable, prosperous societies we have, in the main, even today. Notable was the revelation that before the missionaries "higher class" individuals often resorted to the whipping post to settle disputes with workers. Due for release soon by Historical Press, the book is entitled "Above the 44th Parallel: Legends and Lore of Northern Michigan."
"It all starts at the top," is a timeless adage in politics, government, corporations and institutions. In other words, as the leadership goes, so goes the rest of the organization.
Nationally, our public interest is being pushed to the side by petty nattering, by juvenile one-upmanship. North Korea can hit our shores with nuclear missiles and we aren't sure how to stop them, it was revealed today in the national news. No, we're too busy "controlling the news cycle" with outrageous tweets. And taking revenge rather than providing leadership.
Locally, we are in an awful turmoil with several key official posts being vacated, and now faced with expensive "national searches," endless interviews and dicey hires in a tough human resources atmosphere. Good government leaders aren't easily found and don't come cheap.
My private discussions with local elected officials don't yield any answers. Some don't really know why so-and-so fell out of favor, or why they need to be replaced. The pot has been stirred, but no one seems to know exactly why.
Could it be our local leaders are taking their cues from the Washington atmosphere? Michigan has its problems, too, with a report today from U.S. Rep. Dale Kildee that ours is the nation's "least transparent" state. Without transparency, we are in the dark about important decisions, to say the least.
The recent seemingly trivial argument over "magic" in the City of Bay City did not seem to be a necessary argument -- or even a discussion -- to have. City Manager Rick Finn is already on his way out, at the end of June. And what official doesn't try to put the best possible face on his or her statistical reports and projections?
That leaves observers wondering: what is it all about, anyway?
In the Bay City School District, a highly competent Superintendent Janet Greif is out over some disagreement with the board over subjects not privy to the press. Too bad for the local schools, and, ultimately, the students that adults can put their interests first.
After Doug Newcombe retired after an excellent run in the job, it appeared we had found a gem in a new super. Somebody needs to analyze what happened in the chain of operations and interactions that caused that relationship to break down.
A decade or more ago we went through a terrible stretch in local governments, pro-union versus anti-union apparently being at the root. An ideological philosophy was drifting down from Washington and Lansing to local agencies; get rid of all the unions!
That is the age-old struggle over a worker's right to have representation. Without a union, some leaders are inclined to be more dictatorial, even cruel. If a union representative with a lawyer by their side is waiting in the hallway, administrators are more inclined to compromise, wouldn't that be the logical assumption?
But lawyers and internecine fighting aren't necessary if people in the governmental orbits at all levels concentrate on just one vital human trait: tolerance.
Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
(Contact Dave Via Email at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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