Federal politicians inside the Washington, D.C., bubble sure could stand to learn a lot from a group of local elected officials committed to doing right by their constituents.
Punch and iced sugar cookies notwithstanding, the Nov. 27 joint meeting between Quincy and DeGraff village councils was fierce and, at times, a bit confrontational as both groups sought to get their way in an ongoing difference of opinion over how best to pay the incoming operator at the wastewater treatment plant.
About two-thirds of the sewage that flows into the wastewater plant comes from DeGraff, and the more densely populated village has always footed that percentage of the cost to maintain the eight-year-old plant.
However, DeGraff council has in recent months sought to modify how the operator position was funded, arguing that particular cost should be split down the middle.
It’s not as if the plant operator is distinguishing between the sewage that flows into the facility, and Quincy would have to pay for an operator regardless of how many taps it has in its village, DeGraff officials argued.
Quincy’s mayor and council predicted the village would have to raise its sewer rates in the event it became responsible for a greater share of the operator’s pay. Fresh off two more levy defeats on Nov. 6, Quincy is reluctant to increase its expenses and predicted a harsh backlash from their residents in the event they agreed to pay more for the operator after almost a decade.
The mayors and fiscal officers, along with council members from both villages, were vocal about their positions, and at one point the councils nearly agreed to just have a judge decide the issue.
Impassioned pleas to work together came from both sides, and DeGraff clerk Linda Harford summed it up best.
“This isn’t about us, it’s about doing right by our people,” she said.
New rules from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the resignation of the wastewater plant’s previous operator of record forced the councils to modify how the plant is staffed.
A new operator, and bringing some of the maintenance work in-house instead of contracting it out, ultimately should yield a savings for both municipalities.
As Mrs. Harford spelled out that argument to her council, a majority agreed to continue paying the operator at a 67-33 split. Cooler heads prevailed.
The discussion was civilized, if sometimes uncomfortable. It was also frank and honest, and members of both councils were able to set egos aside to reach an agreement in the best interest for everyone involved.
I admire council members’ willingness to work for the common good, and for their dedication to transparency in the process.
At just about any point during the 90-plus-minute meeting, the elected officials could have retreated to executive session to have the conversation behind a closed door.
Instead, they fought to save their constituents money and they did so openly in a public forum.
Every person was afforded an opportunity to speak, and even though there was some scoffing, each idea was generally considered on its merits. The discussion never turned personal or petty and remained focused on the task at hand.
It was a lesson in effective communication, and one that politicians at all levels of government could stand to learn.
At a time when politics, federal or otherwise, are more posturing than substance, members of at least two village councils remember what their job actually is: serving the common good.
Nate Smith is an Examiner Staff Writer who believes the first step toward compromise is acknowledging that sometimes other people have a point. He can be reached at email@example.com, or on Twitter @n8smithExaminer.