Over the decade or more that I reported local government in Lindsborg, the meetings that concerned public business were often lively, usually interesting, sometimes provocative. They were rarely dull.
Those in charge were to keep the town attractive, promising and solvent, and with all parts working well. This involved a long list of things to do and to keep doing: citywide sidewalk renovations, downtown infrastructure overhaul, upgrade of the municipal power grid, improvements on Harrison-Cole, a new river bridge, new equipment and advance training for police, EMS, and Fire, planning and building Välkommen Trail – for openers.
Schools were under continuous challenge, a race with technology, the stress of budget deliberations, teacher shortages, enrollment whip-saws, indifference and insult from a state legislature, the legal storms later resolved by the Supreme Court.
The missions and assignments continue. Keeping a city tidy and running and its schools open and educating is a gauntlet without end. Councils and boards set the policy, administrators and staff manage things according to that policy.
A town can fall apart and the schools can come unhinged, sometimes quickly, if the people in charge are not engaged, responsive, thoughtful. City Hall will hear about it if the trash isn’t picked up or the lights aren’t on; the school board will have an earful if the busses are late or the gym showers have no hot water.
Managing local affairs involves a rigorous cycle of deliberation and planning, of schedule and routine, attention to detail. And it works best when leaders are thinkers, confident that those on the front lines have experience, the freedom and competence to adapt to change, to improvise when necessary. Citizens are more comfortable when they know their government is listening. Clueless is not an option.
This is the way it has worked in Lindsborg. It is the way it should work in Topeka and Washington.
Repeated surveys and interviews reveal that Americans harbor serious concerns about a tone-deaf Washington, its inability to resolve or even to address pressing issues. Mass shootings, tariffs and trade wars, health care, a rickety infrastructure, and resurgent racism come to mind. Then there are the federal deficit ($1 trillion yearly) and debt ($24 trillion and counting), certain to bring widespread havoc if left unchecked. And a climate crisis.
The president prefers to keep his hounds barking and reality at bay. Our delegates in Washington – Moran, Roberts, Marshall et. al, – have preferred to mark time with their club mates as Washington slides backward. Never mind the lunacy that seeps from the White House, our border prisons, the fawning over ruthless foreign dictators, our betrayal of European allies, our Middle East quagmire, our cozy games with Russians as they hack into our elections. Our representatives dither as the president says farmers are doing quite well these days.
In Topeka, recovery and progress are stalled by a Senate President, Susan Wagle, who has worked feverishly to prevent even the debate of taxation and health care reform; in the House, Speaker Ron Ryckman follows Wagle’s lead in spite of a majority sentiment otherwise (see Medicaid expansion, for example.) Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, has done much to bring Kansas back, and to scour the cronyism and incompetence from Brownback’s dank closets. She needs legislators, Republican and Democrat, to help with a more thorough cleaning.
Against dementia in Washington and resistance in Topeka, our local government advances, helping the community to be better and its students to learn more. We can be thankful that when it comes to running things closest to home, we seem to know what we’re doing.
In our small town, focus is on the public interest, not the special interests. Leaders reserve time for talking, listening, thinking things over. Action follows, based on what had been said, heard, thought over and decided. This has worked well over the years. There was a time, once, when it also worked in Topeka and Washington.
Ad infinitum, ad nauseam
Kansas Republicans have junked plans for a presidential primary election next year, mostly because they didn’t want to ruffle President Trump. Any presidential primary in Kansas – Democratic, Republican or Other – is inconsequential anyway, given our tiny electoral presence. Nonetheless, Kansas Democrats will go to the polls for ranked-choice voting in their presidential primary on May 2.
Elsewhere, more politics. The Democratic candidates for president will debate on Oct.4, Nov. 5, and Dec. 6. Then the action picks up with primaries and caucuses all over the board in February and more of the same in March.
The suspense is almost too much to bear. Kansas, it seems, has made the better moves. Republicans will sit things out. Democrats will vote, knowing that their dance is of minor impact, but at least they had one.