Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Strive for Consensus

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Strive for Consensus

We are now in the Intermission phase of what promises to be a long election year.

In 2012, Justin Wilson and Tim Lovain succeeded in moving our local council elections, which had been held in springtime for decades, up to November of that year. They wanted to piggy back on the national elections, where they expected — and go — a huge voter turnout for Obama’s re-election.

That worked for increasing turnout for national elections, but the focus on local contests was lost in the process. And one of the unexpected consequences of this swap in 2018 is that the Alexandria City Council — for the next seven months — will be operated with four of the seven members now lame ducks. Unlike foreign countries, where the electoral winners take over the next day, the new people will not be sworn in until early January 2019.

This could prove a great opportunity for all the current council members, as they work to build up consensus instead of confrontations. The failed pattern of a 6-1 vote shows an inability to negotiate realistic, practical and workable compromises, like rational adults do. Stop using Congress as a role model. Stop the juvenile interference of not giving a colleague a second for a motion. Vote every motion down when it gets to the floor, but don’t continue to block debate.

Otherwise, these next seven months could be a debacle where those incumbent members remain frozen in place as the “Gang of Six.” In the past, they often operated only as a bloc, and not as independent thinkers and problem solvers we need, who are sensitive to the needs of constituents wherever they live.

They have proven that one-party government, be it at the national, state or local level, is not a formula for successful governance that is inclusive, effective and fair.

As a college instructor, let me offer some hints to the incumbent council members and a plea to bring back the lost civility, the ability to listen to others, and the search for common and workable goals that residents have not experienced in recent years:

  • Put down that cell phone. You know who you are. People don’t take time out to come to council to speak, to line up baby sitters, and to alter their schedules, only to be ignored.

  • Stop texting and emailing to others on the dais. Let them figure out the votes on their own instead of telegraphing them the answer.

  • Pretend every council meeting is a test, not a pop quiz, and come prepared. It is annoying when council members — and some staff — are not ready to discuss items on the agenda.

And let me offer some ideas to the Alexandria Democratic Committee (ADC) which oversees the guidelines for selecting candidates, organizing debates and creating the processes:

  • Stop the charade of the Straw Poll. This is simply the appearance of buying votes and it is unseemly when people who are not ADC members or even Alexandria residents are allowed to stuff the ballot boxes, for a fee.

  • Use the model of the Citizens Police Academy and revive the earlier ADC practice of recruiting people who think they may want to run for council at some point and do a short course. Give them solid information on the financial and legal aspects of running for office; building a campaign and staff; how to market your message; and the federal, state and local regulations and ethical guidelines they need to do. Stop hand-picking candidates behind the scenes and make the process more transparent.

  • Stop the Cattle Call Forum, pretending it is a “debate.” If you have 12 candidates for six seats in the future, then ADC should do three separate debates with four separate candidates, who all have the same questions. If you can televise council meetings, do the same for debates.

  • Consider Australia a voting model for local elections, since it would be easier to do this at a local rather than a national level. Make in-person absentee voting the norm, instead of a convoluted ritual. In that country, it is mandatory to vote, with jail time and fees for those who don’t vote. One outstanding tool they use is that all ballots say “None of the above” candidates. Imagine if we had had that in November 2016, when 90 million registered voters stayed home.

  • We got a small handful of the 100,000 registered Alexandria voters who showed up for the primary. They need to pay closer attention to the recent Supreme Court ruling that upheld a lower Court ruling in Ohio, which removed people from the voting rolls if they missed voting. You can’t complain for the next three years, if you don’t vote to change things locally when you have the chance.

Kathleen M. Burns