Severe disease hits local officials
Last year in Thurston County we elected a number of new people to the city councils of Olympia, Tumwater and Lacey. This time around we will elect a number of new county officials.
It’s imperative that we warn these new government officials to be aware of a fatal disease which affects elected officials, particularly local elected officials.
It has no name, although I call it the Judy Wilson Syndrome because I first recognized it when Judy Wilson was serving on the Thurston County Commission in the early 90′s. I gave it her name, although it almost always impacts all elected officials.
It’s not easy to see when our local elected official has contracted this disease because its often hidden from view.
Its incubation period is about five years, although some local elected officials succumb earlier and some later. Very few ever escape it completely.
Here’s the way if works. Our local elected officials, school board members, city councilmembers, county officials, port commissioners, fire commissioners, all sorts of local officials are dedicated individuals who come into the office with high ideals and a desire to do good while holding public office. (I want to believe that.)
They want to help out the taxpayer and they want to represent the views of their constituents.
But the disease begins to creep up on them. Many don’t really show the signs until they’ve been re-elected once, usually at the five year mark.
These elected officials who had been happy and satisfied representing their constituents begin to get an idea that their constituency has changed. Gradually, imperceptibly almost without their knowledge they begin to change.
They slowly stop representing the people who elected them and begin to represent the government agency they were elected to oversee.
After about five years a city councilmember beginsto think that she represents the city. After all, she does represent the city on the dozens of regional bodies and boards like transit, sewer and planning agencies. It is there that she represents her city.
In the first term she has had the opportunity to set the agenda and plan the future of her city. She has a stake in the outcome of the city, because it is her polices which govern city operations. She begins to see the city’s success as her own success. (I’m talking now about a city, but it holds true for the county, a fire district or a school district.)
It isn’t very long when in conversations with her constituents, that she finds herself explaining city actions and making excuses for city actions, rather than listening to the complaints.
She has become a city spokesman.
The disease can most readily be seen when the city council decides it is going to take a political stance on a statewide ballot measure – - one that negatively affects the taxpayer.
The elected official will find herself supporting a state wide tax increase or opposing a citizen initiative to lower taxes, because she thinks the city needs the revenue.
The city has become more important to her than the taxpayers who elected her in the first place. She has succumbed completely to the Judy Wilson Syndrome.
It’s at that very instant, when she votes for more taxes to support city services, that she has ceased being a representative of the people and has become a representative of the city.
Every elected official in Thurston County has contracted the disease with just three notable exceptions.
Only three elected officials that I know of have managed to ward off the disease – - former Lacey Councilmember Ann Burgman, former Thurston County Commissioner Kevin O’Sullivan and former Olympia Port Commissioner Paul Telford.
If you see the Judy Wilson Syndrome in one of your local elected officials, you should warn her as soon as possible. The only antidote is public recognition of the problem.
(The above story appeared in the March 08 edition of Ken’s Corner & The Real News. Shouldn’t you subscribe.)