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Speaking out: Leaders lead while complainers complain

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Steve Andrist

Steve Andrist

The vast majority of people who run for and are elected to public office do it for the right reasons.

Whether you love or hate them personally, whether you agree with their every stand or couldn’t disagree more, they are motivated by a desire to make positive contributions on behalf of the people of their town or county, their school district or their state.

Sure, in many cases, perhaps most, there’s also a little ego boosting involved; some personal satisfaction in realizing that, at least for the most current election, your friends and neighbors have extended to you their faith and trust.

But you’re not going to sit through two- or three-hour meetings every month and put in the time to work on the issues in between if your motivation is to get an ego massage. You’re not going to drive out to the boonies to inspect a failing culvert or learn the intricacies of property tax law just because people might look up to you.

There are some who are control freaks or power trippers, but most become leaders just to help, and they do it by taking stands on myriad issues from the mundane to the momentous.

Leadership isn’t about masking.

Leadership isn’t about vaccines.

Leadership isn’t about abortion.

Leadership is about masking and vaccines and abortion and taxes and budgets and personnel policies and salary schedules and roads and bullying and substance abuse and reprimanding staff and community development and unruly neighbors and nuisance properties and loose dogs and on and on and on.

The common good.

Never, ever, will any citizen agree with every stand taken by any city council or school board member, county commissioner or legislator, on all of those myriad issues. It’s just not going to happen.

What is happening is that some loud and belligerent citizens are repaying public service with nasty confrontations, mean-spirited complaints and sometimes threats.

The National School Boards Association says a charged political climate has made it increasing difficult for board members to do their jobs. No longer are citizens content to express a view and hope elected leaders agree. Rather they yell, scream, shout and belittle.

“What’s been disappointing to me are the threats we’ve been getting as board members,” said Amber Flynn, vice president of the Grand Forks School Board.

It’s happened in Bismarck, too. And in Fargo and West Fargo and East Grand Forks.

In Brownsburg, Indiana, detractors called board members “child abusers.” In Vail, Arizona, a woman told board members, “It’s my constitutional right to be as mean as I want to you guys.”

The Associated Press reported a Nevada school board member had thoughts of suicide before stepping down amid threats and harassment. In Virginia, a board member resigned over what she saw as politics driving decisions on masks. The vitriol at board meetings in Wisconsin had one member fearing he would find his tires slashed.

There have been recall efforts in nearly 60 school districts this year, including Fargo, where some residents dislike that the board required masks to be worn in schools.

They’re not upset about increased taxes, bullying policies, staff hiring or curriculums, but about masking. Citizens complained about one of those issues. The board studied and decided on all of them.

That’s leadership, and it deserves respect, even in the face of disagreement.

Make your voice heard, and if so moved vote the rascals out. But in doing so, take some advice from balladeer James Taylor:

If I had stopped to listen once or twice

If I had closed my mouth and opened my eyes

If I had cooled my head and warmed my heart

I'd not be on this road tonight

Steve Andrist, Bismarck, is former executive director of the North Dakota Newspaper Association.


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