We all believe in free speech and the wonders of the Internet, but we should also take care if we're going to preserve a civil community. In the last few weeks there have been a series of particularly vicious e-mails sent to our city councilmen. I have only seen a couple of them and cannot imagine what the author(s) hope to accomplish. Of course, they've been anonymous.
Perhaps it's time to remind ourselves that those who serve (whether they are elected or appointed) do so voluntarily. The idea that the "need" to do this is far less accurate, in my experience, than that they are "willing" to.
As anyone who's been there will tell you, one of the greatest challenges when holding an office can be to find qualified successors (there's always a kook element available) who are willing to offer their time and talent.
I think former Mayor Bill Burch put part of it best when he retired. He said that when he first took his seat on the council, one of is predecessors told him, "Count all your friends on the first day you take office because that's as large a number as you'll have in your lifetime."
Try as you will to avoid them, there are questions that arise and decisions that must be made that pit one group of people against another. Every councilman must cast a public vote on those issues. There are no secrets allowed, nor should there be.
Yet each councilman must cast his or her vote realizing that those who prevail will not be very grateful, and that whatever gratitude they do feel will fade quickly. That's natural enough. They will think you only did what justice and common sense required.
Those who lose, however, rarely see it that way and frequently pledge to never forget. By an large, I think they keep those pledges.
It's one thing to have a spirited and even passionate debate over public issues, and none of us can help it. Feelings will run high. But personal, anonymous attacks on individuals, their family and friends and their businesses whenever possible are simply counterproductive.
Constructive criticism is another matter. We all have a list of items we'd like to see council do, and another list of deeds we wish they had not done. Speaking up on those topics is not an attack. As I see it, it's not even griping. It's feedback and necessary for councilmen to hear if they're to do their jobs well.
But, there is simply no way around it. If these personal attacks continue, or grow even more virulent, there will be fewer and fewer people willing to serve.
So what? Consider then the usual suspects. Frequently they're the loudest, if not the brightest, voices in the room. Now imagine them with the title "lawmaker." If that gives you a chill, then perhaps we can all agree that it's time to lower the rhetoric.