Advancing Addison’s Agenda Requires Positive Thinking… And Campaigning

Advancing Addison’s Agenda
Requires Positive Thinking… And Campaigning
By Susan M. Halpern
Former Addison Councilmember (1992-1999)

Addison has made great strides during the past year.  Mayor Chow and the council have embraced the democratic process, and have worked hard to restore law, order, integrity, transparency and accountability.  We have seen a council hard at work, conducting meetings that are about deliberation and decisions, not theatrics and gamesmanship.  The days of councilmembers “acting” are behind us, as we watch seven people determined to do what is best for Addison.

There is still much to do, and Mayor Chow is leading the council in the right direction.  Addison must restore its reputation for being a great place in which to live, work, play and conduct business.

One of the most important accomplishments of the current council has been to address Addison’s long-neglected employee compensation problem. The prior administration neglected this issue, and essentially declared war on Addison’s staff.  The results were predictable: Addison lost all but two department heads, seated four city managers in a span of just three or four years, faced critical staffing shortages in the police and fire departments (with no lists, and few applicants for testing), and lost countless other employees who fled the toxic atmosphere.

The cost of such attrition is high.  For police and fire personnel, Addison was quickly becoming an academy of sorts, paying for extensive training for new hires ($70,000 or so per person), only to lose them after 2 or 3 years to other municipalities that offered more lucrative compensation packages. And that’s before you get to the impact of having literally hundreds of years of experience and institutional history walk out the door.  The council’s courage to address this issue after so long is laudable and, most importantly, it is in Addison’s best interests as we move forward.

The past year has also seen a return of true decorum to council meetings.  Genuine decorum.  Heartfelt respect.  Honest deliberations.  Make no mistake about it, developers and potential residents and tourists watch such things.  Now, with no member of the council manipulating the process to force his agenda on the others, we have finally returned to a seven-member council that embraces the deliberative process.  And, while the current council adopted rules designed to prevent some of the shenanigans and problems created by the prior administration, there has been little need for regulation of meetings.  This council has just gotten its business done.  Quietly, humbly, efficiently.  How refreshing it has been.  Bravo!

And yet, we continue to hear negativity from those who would divide us.  They attack and misinform, always targeting the current council and prior staff, most notably former City Manager Ron Whitehead, who tirelessly served our community for 32 years.  Never has it been more evident than in their decision to make the wind turbine lawsuit the faux issue of this election.  I’ve written about their formulaic approach to campaigns: create an issue, attack prior management and staff, seek bad publicity for Addison, etc etc.  And of course, the attacks of these negative folks often target the current council, no matter what they do.  It’s a shame, and it doesn’t help Addison.

Never has the formulaic strategy of negativity been more evident than in the weeks since the council announced that an agreement in principle had been reached regarding the wind turbine lawsuit.  The prospect of a satisfactory resolution of this situation sent the negative folks reeling and, of course, attacking.  Even when they don’t know the terms of the settlement.  Even as the lawyers are preparing the documents.  Even when councilmembers and City Manager Wes Pierson publicly confirm that the terms of the settlement will be announced once the documents are finalized.  No, the negative folks always find something negative to say.  After all, whatever the resolution of this lawsuit is, it’s not their solution.  And if it’s not their solution, they attack it, by way of claiming that only they can get it right.  No matter what the facts are or aren’t, and even when the terms of the settlement are unknown.

But these tactics have an important silver lining, because they really expose the “attack-the-council-no-matter-what-they-do” strategy.  In turn, that allows all of us to see it for what it is and, even more importantly, to see the negative dividers for who they are.  And that’s important as we watch Addison move forward and away from negativity, into a bright and united future.

And that brings me to the current election season.  It will be interesting and enlightening, particularly regarding issues of negativity.  Councilmember Paul Walden has committed to running a positive campaign, focused on Addison’s future, and I hear that he has challenged other candidates to do the same.  Will the negative folks comply?  Or will we see a repeat of last year’s horrible ugliness?

We can impact it.  We can demand positivity from candidates.  We can insist that candidates focus on Addison’s future, and how we move forward.  If candidates go negative, we can ask them how that negativity helps Addison.  Indeed, we should ask candidates pursuing negativity:

  • Will they approach council service in a similarly negative way?
  • How will their negativity impact their ability to deliberate with other members of the council, if they are elected?
  • Will they seek negative publicity for Addison, as its ex-mayor did in prior years when he apparently perceived it would help his personal interests?
  • How has attacking the current council’s resolution of the wind turbine lawsuit helped Addison?
  • How have all the attacks on prior management encouraged Addison’s employees to be creative and innovative, a trademark of the Addison I was a part of during my seven-year tenure on council?

The fact is that Addison enjoys a rich history of innovation and good governance.  Addison should celebrate it and be grateful for all the employees and councilmembers who contributed to making Addison what it will become under good leadership.

And we must never forget that being on the council is about governance, and about being a POSITIVE contributor to a seven-member deliberative body.  Service on the council must be selfless; negativity is selfish and incompatible with the requirements of the job.  So, join me in demanding positivity during this election season.  Reject negativity.  Let’s keep Addison moving forward.