Poll Dancing: Why local leaders work for tips
By Ramon Presson, Columnist
I won because I had a really cool poster in the school cafeteria and a great campaign speech that included a short original poem. My closest opponent in the polls got flustered during his speech when his notecards shuffled themselves out of order and he pretty much handed me the election. Unlike Abe Lincoln I won the first political contest I entered – a fifth-grade showdown for president of the Student Council of South Fork Elementary School.
In preparing for my speech I asked Suzy Ellison, my campaign manager, “Exactly what does a student council president do?” I had never been a student council class representative (sort of like a congressman from your district) so I had no idea what the student council or its anointed leader did. Picture a guy being elected president of the United States who’s never visited Washington D.C., and you get the idea. Fortunately for me, the school election was really a popularity contest and inexperience is not the greatest liability in the minds of 11-year-old voters who really don’t have much experience at anything.
I retired from politics after that election so, like George Washington, I’m proud to claim an undefeated record. Decades later, politician jokes aside, I have respect and admiration for local residents who step into the arena to serve their community through government. The political arena is filled not only with fellow gladiators plotting one’s demise but is infiltrated with snarling lions – a herd of complaining and angry residents who seem to view their leaders as raw meat and fair game for attack.
Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to become acquainted with mayors, commissioners, councilmen, aldermen and school board members, and it is quite clear that these men and women are not in it for …
Local office doesn’t pay well. If you were to factor in all the hours an alderman puts in behind the scenes the annual salary would hardly equal minimum wage.
Unless you consider it a perk to be frequent criticism for a low-paying thankless job that demands untold hours in addition to your normal job.
Local officials walk among us largely anonymous and invisible; or they often wish they could. It’s not hard to find big egos and deep narcissism at the higher levels of state and national politics. And while egos certainly do appear on the smaller platforms of local government, it is less prevalent than the headline grabbing and spotlight groping seen on bigger stages.
Embracing the authority and the corresponding responsibility to make decisions should not be confused with a lust for power.
Let’s face it, high-powered lobbyists with deep pockets don’t wine and dine aldermen and school board members. Mayors of small towns don’t have speech writers and a public relations staff. Generally, councilmen of small towns don’t get complimentary suite seats at Titans games. County commissioners don’t command huge speaking fees, and city managers seldom get to hobnob with celebrities.
Local officials throw their hat in the ring because of a conviction of principles and a love/burden for their community. Little else could make them willingly choose such vulnerability to ingratitude and condemnation. If you think “condemnation” is too harsh of a term for their actual experience, just ask a mayor or school board member about e-mails they receive. Ask city council members and their spouses about friends who have distanced themselves because of a position taken.
It’s like being a baseball umpire or basketball referee with half the crowd always questioning and heckling your calls. To put on the uniform of politics you must have a thick skin and a strong sense of purpose, a healthy self-esteem and a poor memory for grudges. And it helps to remember that regardless of what other people may think and say about you that your mother still loves you.
The Discovery Channel hit TV show “Dirty Jobs” featured host Mike Rowe joining various manual laborers in difficult tasks and disgusting conditions. Unfortunately the show was cancelled before Rowe could work a shift without ear plugs at Chuck E. Cheese, clean porta-potties at Bonnaroo, or work as an alderman in Williamson County. Take a moment and thank those leaders who represent you and serve you. Oh, and have someone there to catch them when they faint.
Author and therapist Dr. Ramon Presson is the founder of LifeChange Counseling and the Marriage Center of Franklin, Tenn. www.LifeChangeCS.org firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted on: 3/25/2013