Leadership is Bigger Than any one Issue
Oct. 21, 2017
In the lead-up to election day on Tuesday, Nov. 7, I'd like to share some thoughts about our representative democracy and what makes a good mayor or city commissioner.
In reality, most citizens are not very familiar with what our local representatives do on a day-to-day basis. We simply trust our elected officials to study public issues on our behalf and make the best decisions possible. That is what representative government is designed to do. We expect transparency and the right to have our opinions considered, but in the end, we know we've elected representatives to act on behalf of the entire community.
A common sentiment around election time is that a representative isn't listening when, in fact, he or she has simply made a decision with which we don't agree. It isn't that they aren't listening; they just don't agree.
In a recent Traverse City Record-Eagle Letter to the Editor, former Traverse City mayor Michael Estes went so far as to assert that two commissioners who are up for re-election “insulted ... citizens with their arrogance and their votes in defiance of ... [the citizenry].” This from a man who cast many unpopular votes himself.
Theorist Edmund Burke believed that part of the duty of a representative was not simply to communicate the wishes of the electorate but also to use judgement in the exercise of his or her powers, even if those views are not reflective of those of a majority of voters.
Critics claimed the recent Prop 3 debate — the citywide referendum that concerns the development of buildings taller than 60 feet tall — was proof that some elected officials don't listen to constituents or honor the wishes of the electorate. That position fails to acknowledge that these commissioners were doing their job: studying, researching, and listening to all sides, including residents, City staff, and even the state attorney general's office, who had declared the charter amendment illegal.
I think by keeping their focus on the mission, goals, and objectives of Traverse City —despite a barrage of political pressure and personal attacks — these commissioners each showed the traits of a true leader. Even today, they find themselves in the costly and difficult position of defending the City against the first of many potential lawsuits, and considering the financial and legal liabilities that Prop 3 has caused.
My advice: If you don't agree with your elected official's position, let him or her know. If your officials consistently vote against your personal wishes, look for preferable candidates next time, or consider public office yourself. But realize that good leaders must act. And they must consider much more information than is typically reported by our local media to make decisions — sometimes unpopular ones — in order to move governance forward.
Lately, individuals and groups I've been involved with have expressed deep concern regarding the tone of local politics and the overall lack of civil discourse in our community. Rather than uncovering the root causes and conditions that are to blame, I'd like to focus on what we all have in common — our shared community values — and the progressive thinkers and change-makers who can lead us moving forward.
On the current city commission, I think there is a lot of agreement about the vision for our city and the things that we all value, but there remains conflict about exactly how to protect and promote these ideals.
The most effective leaders in our community influence others, not on the basis of their position, but because they possess certain traits that enable them to represent their constituencies and drive progressive social and economic change.
According to research, the virtue most often attributed to a good leader pertains to their character and personality, rather than their political philosophy. More important than the opinions you have is what type of human being you are.
A great leader not only has the motivation to affect positive change but also wants to be at the forefront of that transformation. This individual inherently possesses the dedication and drive that are necessary, and is willing to selflessly put in the time and effort toward this service for the community good.
A great leader is able to evolve and grow over the course of time and also has a willingness to adapt and learn. It’s not enough to pay lip service to other people’s thoughts and ideas; one needs to be open-minded enough to listen, learn and change course when a valid new perspective is shared.
Finally, a great leader needs to be a bit of a dreamer, a big picture person who is able to see beyond the minutia of everyday city business (or political squabbling). This forward-thinking ability is especially important when trying to effect lasting change — often a hard and long process in which the ultimate objective might not even be achieved in this generation.
So as you cast your votes in the coming weeks, I encourage you to look to the future. A candidate's opinion on a single issue is far less important than his or her experience, character, and leadership traits. Consider the kind of individuals that you want making decisions for you over the next four years. More importantly, vote for the candidates that have the ability to nurture a Traverse City where your children and grandchildren can thrive.
Christie Minervini owns Sanctuary Handcrafted Goods in the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, and is passionate about gender equality, community development, and ending homelessness.