The last three columns have been about leadership. These topics included the limits that government structure places on an individual commissioner’s community involvement efforts, the editorial decisions made by the longtime publisher of the newspaper and the activism that started from a member of the public on behalf of preserving our waterways.
While it is important to recognize how movements start, from the way Gary Bartell Jr. began Standup 4 the Outstanding, Commissioner Holly Davis brought Prosperity Citrus to the forefront or the countless projects from the new animal shelter, the YMCA and the United Way spearheaded by the Chronicle under Gerry Mulligan’s direction, it can be equally important to understand the other side of efforts. It’s not enough to just get started. A clear end point has to be defined.
Losing sight of the objective can hamper any movement. How this often happens in government is through the complicated relationship elected officials have with their constituents.
An example of this is the Central Ridge Park in Beverly Hills. Renovations haven’t begun because the source of funding is still being debated. Commissioner Ruthie Schlabach, whose district includes the park, is fighting for existing park-designated impact fee funds to be used, while Commissioners Scott Carnahan and Ron Kitchen want the area to pay an additional fee. Their argument has a concrete end goal: the park funds should be used for a recreational football field.
Her argument does not. She had three proposals, none of which included reopening the drained pool, then hosted a townhall two weeks ago only to be overwhelmingly bombarded with requests for the pool by the 70 or so residents who showed up.
There’s no end goal from the three proposals to the fourth demanded by the public. But she is still in the right that impact fee money should be used rather than an additional fee on Beverly Hills residents and needs a clearly defined objective to keep fighting.
An underlying question here is Commissioner Schlabach’s responsibility to heed the public’s demands. Conservative commentator George Will, whose twice-weekly 750 word columns for the Washington Post became a model for the Concurrent, noted in his most recent book The Conservative Sensibility that, “liberals argue that government is not responsive enough. This is not the case. Government is hair trigger responsive and thus tries to be all things to all people.”
This observation explains what appears to be the roadblock in renovating the park. Commissioner Schlabach is sensitive to the wants of the community and its indecisiveness has brought the entire movement to a standstill.
In the interest of ideological balance, Will goes on to say, “conservatives lament government is too strong and overbearing. This also is untrue. Government is fat but ineffectual against outside interest or an ability to enact true change.” Commissioner Schlabach can enact true change. She’ll just have to do so against the wishes of some of her most vocal constituents, however.
Searching for the desire of the majority is a worthy cause but an imperfect system to practice every time. In 2020, Commissioner Schlabach was one of three county commissioners since 2010 to be elected by less than a majority of voters.
The other two both occurred in 2012 when Dennis Damato and Scott Adams were both elected in universal primaries with less than 50%. The benefit of hindsight shows us two similar dispositions to vocally fight for what they believed was right even in the face of community opposition, but two divergent paths in demeanor.
Commissioner Schlabach has a pleasant demeanor, but the time is now to stop using the often-repeated line, “I’ve only been on the job nine months” and start setting end goals to fight for.
A previous column used the satirical quote, “there go the people and I must follow for I am their leader.” A quote from the movie Steve Jobs written by Aaron Sorkin, known for his political show the West Wing, has the title character yelling, “Artists lead and hacks ask for a show of hands.”
The truth is commissioners need to fall somewhere in between these quotes while never losing the ability to hear the all in the community even if the ultimate decision will disappoint some.
This leadership philosophy is interchangeable with positions on vaccines, masks and any other of the numerous issues relevant in our society right now but outside the topic of this column. The public helped get elected officials their start, it’s on them to choose an end goal and follow through.