Is it just me?

The Richmond County Council column

If I had a quarter for every time I’ve been asked to write something about the recent happenings involving Richmond Municipal Council, I would be rich.

Everyone seems to think I’m biding my time and sitting on an explosive opinion piece. Maybe it’s because I follow American politics, or maybe it’s because I write for a newspaper, or maybe it’s just because I live in Richmond County, who knows. (I don’t have a horse in this race. The candidate in my riding has been acclaimed so I could only vote for the West Richmond school board seat and I know none of the council members, candidates, or other involved parties, except in passing.)

Unfortunately, everyone waiting for me to drop a bomb is going to be sorely disappointed. The fact is, I don’t know enough about the situation to write about it, so instead, I am going to write about what I do know.

I know that not every politician is a crook. Being in politics is a thankless job, and this is the case whether you’re doing a bad job or a good job. It is difficult to maintain a steady course when faced with constant, sometimes erroneously-placed criticism and unfair judgements, but people run anyway because their civic-mindedness and desire to make a positive difference in their community outweighs their reluctance. With the exception of a few bad apples (which are in every bunch of anything), the majority of people in any governing body are doing their best in a difficult position. We should remember that there are good people in our midst who are trying to make a difference, and that we can’t paint everyone with the same brush.

Here’s something else I know: I know that reading on-line posts has never made anyone an expert on municipal politics. It is a complicated subject even when it’s functioning well, and an even more complicated subject when it’s not. To be able to post on-line publicly for everyone to see the “breadth of your knowledge,” one should require at least a basic understanding of government. And that knowledge should be a requirement if someone is going to complain or make accusations. A level head, some common sense, and a bit of maturity also go a long way in any discussion about anything, but certainly in matters of local politics. I wish the outspoken and uninformed among us would feel the same way and save us all from the second-hand embarrassment we continue to endure.

In the same vein, whether in matters of politics in Richmond County or any other issue – I know that people need to be more mindful of their words. I try to make it a general rule not to address someone on-line using words that I wouldn’t say to them face to face. It’s easy to stand on a soapbox and pound away wordy rants on a keyboard, because behind a computer screen there is no one to look in the eye. It’s one thing to have a strong opinion of someone, but it’s another thing to berate them on-line for reasons formulated by reading chat room banter. Information can seldom be accurately vetted in a way that makes the Web a reasonable place for reasonable adults. Anyone can cut and paste any combination of words to suit their argument, so it’s important for us to be conscientious and veracious in our pursuit of the truth, and equally important to remember that there are real people – ones with children and feelings and who we might see in the grocery store tomorrow – behind profile pictures.

Another thing I know that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and there has been a lot of squeaking. The hood has been popped on Richmond County, and people are looking under it to see where the problems exist. Over the past few months there has been so much talk of corruption, misappropriation of funds, and inappropriate conduct, that no one in power could turn a blind eye even if they wanted to. I think we can rest assured that wrongs will be righted, and wrong-doers will reap what they have sown. Let us all pump the brakes on the dissection and have a modicum of patience and grace while that process plays out.

And most importantly, I know that everyone in Richmond County wants essentially the same thing. We want jobs, we want reasonable tax rates, we want infrastructure funding, and we want transparency. While we differ in how we propose to accomplish that, let’s not lose sight of the fact that we’re all in it to reach the same conclusion.

We are better than the on-line nonsense, we are better than this entire fiasco, and I truly hope with a new council we are able to rise above.