By Dale Martin
November 10, 2017 12:01 a.m.
As someone who studied political science prior to transitioning into professional public management, I have always been fascinated with campaigning and elections. I attended a national political convention, working with platform committees and delegates. I served as a campaign manager for a candidate, and, once was even a candidate myself for a county office (I lost).
The most incredible election, and I believe many would agree, was the election last year of President Trump. At the Florida League of Cities conference in August (after each candidate had secured the nomination), a keynote speaker offered the following insight: each major party nominated the only candidate that the other party could beat. I was completely agog as the election night results were tallied and one of the most significant political upsets in our history happened.
The intense rhetoric spawned by the 2016 campaigns and election have continued to contributed to the divisiveness that grips our nation. It is most unseemly at the national level: those unseen and unfamiliar people in far away Washington, D.C., are convenient scapegoats for all the ills of society. We will likely never have to face those politicians, so it is easy, protected by modern “chain mail” keyboard armor, to berate and belittle them.
Through my position as a city manager, I have had the fortune to meet and speak with several U.S. Senators (including Florida’s Sen. Bill Nelson), Congressional representatives (including local Congressman John Rutherford), governors, and many other federal and state officials. Irrespective of party affiliation, the conversations were polite and respectful. Those officials have families and friends and are working hard to do what they think is best for their country, their state, and their constituents. They are intelligent and well-spoken- not the demons that so many portray them to be.
My experience with local elections is that local elections, because the candidates are actually our neighbors who we see at the grocery store, on the beach, or at a restaurant, are usually less spiteful. The prevalence of social media, though, has made it much easier for local surrogates or distant commenters to interject, with minimal repercussions, nastiness and misinformation. Even more unfortunately, nearly everything so presented or shared is presumed to be accurate and truthful.
Our City election was conducted earlier this week and was again a wonderful demonstration of the power of local government. Five candidates offered themselves to the electors of our community. In a post-election message to those five, I thanked all of them for their willingness to become the governing face of Fernandina Beach- only five people, of over 10,000 electors, stepped forward to lead and implement policies to make our community better. I believe that small number is a testament to the challenges of serving as a true community leader.
I can attest on their behalf, and every City Councilor, Selectmen, or Commissioner for whom I have ever served, that the “perks” of serving are irresistible: dozens of emails and telephone calls about issues they never imagined, extensive preparation for lengthy meetings, realization that you are the face of the community every single hour every single day with absolutely no margin for misstep (everyone has a telephone and camera is detractors will publicize on the slightest transgression), and acknowledging that gaining simple consensus is a notable achievement because, while thinking that you are doing what everyone wants, everyone doesn’t. In my twenty years of local government service, I have never experienced a local government elected official using his or her position for personal gain- they have invariably served to make their communities better.
I offer congratulations to Commissioner-elect Philip Chapman and run-off candidates Dr. Ronald “Chip” Ross and Mr. Orlando Avila. They articulated their concerns and shared their philosophies that successfully garnered the support necessary to lead the community (recognizing that Mr. Avila and Dr. Ross must continue their efforts for another month). Mr. Medardo Monzon performed admirably as a political newcomer. Commissioner Tim Poytner has served the city previously and now completes his current term. All five gentlemen merit recognition and gratitude for their willingness to serve.
Thank you, gentlemen, for your efforts over the past few months to rise to the leadership challenge of our community. For Commissioner-elect Chapman and either Dr. Ross or Mr. Avila, you will find local government to be simultaneously wonderfully exciting and incredibly frustrating. It will be one of the most rewarding endeavors of your life to represent Fernandina Beach.
On an additional service note, thank you to the veterans who have admirably served our nation. I hope that you participate in tomorrow’s annual Veterans Day parade (downtown, 11:00 AM, Saturday, November 11).