By JIM RIPPY
Being schooled was a sports term used when I was growing up. It meant that someone who knew hot to play the game better than you had given you an embarassing lesson. I am going to share a personal experience with you and you will see that I am lost when it comes to the political game and I have definitely been schooled.
I have served on the Rend Lake Conservancy District Board for several years and for the majority of the time, it has been a positive experience. I think the board, along with the management, has made gigantic strides from the published past history that resulted in a complete new management team and reconstituted board. In fact, a legal issue that had been in process for almost 20 years, I am told, was finally resolved and put behind us recently.
The issue I am going to share with you will certainly cause you to realize how naive and ignorant I am when it comes to the political arena and the way they conduct business.
Without going into details of the River Conservancy District statutes and trying to explain all the ramifications, I will try to keep this as simple as I can. Jefferson County has three representatives, two from the county that are appointed by the county and one that is appointed by the City of Mt. Vernon. Franklin County has four representatives, two from the county and one each from the City of Benton and West Frankfort. The conservancy district act allows one from each municipality with a population of 5,000 inhabitants or more. Of course, this gives Franklin County members a majority in the voting issues.
Do not get me wrong: I have no personal issue with any member of the Franklin County group and the total board probably votes unanimously on 90 percent of the items brought to the board.
I think I can speak for the Jefferson County members when I say that we have a fundamental difference with Franklin County when it comes to financial issues such as lowering taxes, lowering water rates, co-mingling of loans, use of lobbyists and overall financial strategy.
The consistent voting as a group by Franklin County on some of the issues mentioned simply means that Jefferson County is not able to represent the people as effectively in these areas as they feel they should.
I approached our mayor with a request that Mt. Vernon should have an additional representative because the population of the city equals or exceeds the combined population of Benton and West Frankfort. The same held true for water purchases and taxes paid. Simple me! I thought that this was just a matter of fairness in representation.
Now we will get into how easy it is to get schooled when you do not understand how the game is played.
I, along with the county representatives, met with the mayor and chairman of the county board and they agreed to take up the issue at the state level. Now, I will pause, because someone will say that an evenly representative board would grid lock and never get anything done. My view is just the opposite. Instead of domination and block voting, I think it would force cooperation and resolution. I think debate and differences of opinion are healthy and lead to better solutions.
The news media reported extensively in the distant past on the Conservancy District when management and the board appeared to always agree and the transparency needed was almost non-existent. We know the results of that. The people of both counties suffered as a result.
Our mayor came to a board meeting and clearly stated why she agreed that Mt. Vernon should have equal representation based on population, water sales and taxes paid. She gave a very professional presentation based on fairness, logic and simple facts. She just wanted everyone up front to know that a request was made to introduce a bill in the state legislature to gain equality for Mt. Vernon.
Hang on! Here comes the schooling. The original request was to change the statute of one representative for each 5,000 municipality to one representative for each 7,000 in population, which would give Mt. Vernon an additional representative. Nothing more intended! Somehow, this was changed to 7,500, which would have excluded Benton when presented to state representatives.
There was never any thought or any intention to exclude anyone presently represented; only to gain equal and fair representation for Mt. Vernon.
Somehow, another issue was added to the request — the right to remove a board member for "no cause." I want to repeat that "for no cause." I do not believe that anyone in any job or appointed position should be able to be removed "for no cause." That process reeks of political cronyism to me. The act states that a trustee may be removed for incompetence, neglect of duty, or malfeasance and at the end of their appointed term if not re-appointed. I also think that re-appointment should be based on performance and not opinion. I just find "no cause" to be abhorrent and unfair.
I am going back to the being schooled; how can a simple straight-forward request to add one additional member for Mt. Vernon based on population, water sales, taxes, etc., that our mayor understood and supported could turn into excluding Benton and removing board members for no cause shows me just how ignorant and naive I am.
If this is the way politics work, I shake my head in wonder. I still believe that Mt. Vernon deserves equal representation and that it is a matter of fairness.
I view the board as a responsible agent of the people they represent. They should work with management to make the best decisions for their customers. I learned the hard way to be very leery of having everyone agree with you. My work colleagues and I had a name for this — it was called "the yeah boss syndrome." The fastest way to lose your job in the management arena I played in was to have everyone agreeing with you and saying yes to all your ideas.
I believe that this principle applies even more so to government. There is nothing illegal or immoral about dissenting views. The relationship needed for success is open, confronting and trusting. Open transparency without hidden agendas is a must; you never get the best solutions without confrontation and you cannot have positive confrontation without absolute trust among members of the group.