It’s official. Candidate filing for the 2023 municipal elections in North Carolina has come to an end. I wish I had better news, but it looks like we will still have to choose from some of the same old tired leadership. Sure, there are bright spots but I’m wondering why we’re okay to keep electing people who are ill suited for the job. You’ll know what I mean as you read on.
We all know that many highly accomplished people, who could be good candidates, are busy doing other things. They are not drawn to public service, and we are not reaching out and recruiting them. There are the exceptions like Charlotte City Councilman Ed Driggs who retired years ago but has found a valuable niche serving the community. But he won’t be doing this forever so new leaders need to be identified, encouraged, supported, and promoted. And we need to start that process, now.
There are those that run because they see elected office as a steppingstone to other, bigger things. And some of them probably don’t care what happens to you after they leave. Although some of today’s solid elected officials started service at the local level and moved up, it was mainly because having already proved themselves leading school boards and cities, they simply wanted to test their mettle doing other things. Beware of those seeking higher office just for the sake of going higher.
Perhaps the most frustrating and dangerous type of candidate is what I call the activist. Activism isn’t bad. But when it’s the only reason to be elected, we are cautious. These people come to the table with no experience, and no perspective, with the intention to promote dangerous, extreme ideas that often stray outside the legal boundaries of policy making. They lead with anger, have an axe to grind, and can’t get off the bandwagon of supporting only one or two issues they believe are the sole reason for our woes. Even worse, if this type cannot speak on their own, and simply seek attention by adopting their political party’s predictable set of talking points, we’ve found their service may not result in much progress. In fact, they usually bring progress to a grinding halt.
Here’s the thing. Elected officials, especially at the local level, make decisions on a regular basis that do truly affect our everyday lives. If you think local elections are inert, you are terribly wrong. These people ultimately decide how much you will pay in property taxes, what kind of investments will be made with respect to public infrastructure, and the priority afforded to public safety. At a basic level I think most of us want to know our money is being spent appropriately.
I want to offer two examples of the damage being done by bad leadership. Meaning elected officials who make their petty grievances a priority over their responsibility to offer public service. And worse yet, call attention to themselves instead of finding solutions to the more significant challenges of the day.
Example 1: During the June 26th Zoning meeting, City Council Member LaWana Mayfield voted not once, not twice, but three times to push rezoning petitions to the following meeting (the next month) without providing any logical reason. Maybe it’s just because she could. Those issues in question had been supported overwhelmingly by the Planning Commission and other Members of Council but because she wanted to make a point, Mayfield pushed the decision to the following meeting. This ultimately leads to costing us all additional time and money. In fact, two of the plans should eventually result in more multi-family housing developments meant to address our crisis-level lack of supply. This blatant disregard for the greater good comes at a cost.
Example 2: This follows a growing pattern of spurious behavior, and occurred on July 17th, to be precise, at another Zoning meeting. At this meeting, Council Member Renee Johnson led the charge in preventing a petitioner from withdrawing their petition on a project planned for her district. If they had been able to withdraw, they could have resubmitted another plan immediately. But if it is denied, it has much more serious consequences for the applicant. Here is what happened: The plan called for higher densities that suddenly are a point of contention, even after the 2040 plan was approved. After some back and forth, the petitioner requested his plan be withdrawn. Not only did Johnson orchestrate an effort to deny the withdrawal, but she succeeded in convincing a majority of the Council to deny the petition outright, further limiting the rights of the property owners. This is a very, very dangerous precedent and according to many who watched it unfold, a similar action had not been taken anytime in the last twenty or thirty years. That kind of abuse of power is NOT leadership. It is bullying an applicant and should be seen in that light.
As we begin another election season with a dearth of candidates before us, how can we know who to support? In a few days we’ll be releasing a document that offers a kind of checklist for success. We call it Political Leadership: A Guide to Choosing the Right Candidates. We hope its contents will provide a good basis for choosing folks who will lead.
Down the road we will put together our recommendations (our usual Voter’s Guide) for the candidates we think are best suited for not only our industry, but every resident they serve. We do this so you have a tool to share with your own sphere of influence and professional network.
We also need to start the challenging work of recruiting capable candidates for the next elections, those who have integrity and who are willing to give back to the community. Only then will we enjoy steady, measured progress, metered by experienced leaders, resulting in positive outcomes for our community. Without conscious recruitment, we may be saying good-bye to progress.
In closing, I have this thought about why we can’t seem to attract better leaders. Which is that most people do NOT care who is elected. They believe policy makers are supposed to defend their individual pet peeves. They believe in ‘mob rule.’ And they do NOT understand how government works, nor do they become involved and engaged enough to learn how bad leadership ultimately ends up hurting them.
Apathy is an enemy that slowly kills. So, let’s try and turn this around, shall we?
Here is an editorial that expands on my premise but explores the side of staff leadership. Something we feel is vital to attracting and cooperating with competent elected officials.
Close to the beginning, it tells the reader: “If you happen to work in a municipal government that has a high performing, ambitious and results focused leadership team, supported by a cohort of competent and capable managers working diligently and successfully towards continuously improving how municipal services are delivered and how value is provided for municipal taxpayers, and using a management information system that puts the most essential performance results at their fingertips at just the right time, you probably won’t find this of interest.” A fascinating way to grab our attention.
This article isn’t targeting elected officials, it is targeting bad staff leadership. But a good staff and city manager, with gumption, talent, and purpose can help monitor, steer, and maintain some influence over their elected leaders. Sometimes a weak staff is the reason elected officials go rogue. In the absence of good momentum and energy, politicians have nothing to latch onto, so they create their own agenda.BACK TO LATEST NEWS