Buncombe County – Candidates love to press the flesh when they are running for office. Events, rallies, meet and greets, fundraisers, you name it, they’re there – kissing babies and taking donations for their campaigns. Less so once they’re elected. Then it’s mainly debates and fundraisers you see these “public servants.” One place elected officials have never been able to hide is in public comment and in-person meetings. That is until the pandemic.
Over the last year, much of the work “for the people” by their elected officials have taken place in the “star chambers.” In front of cameras instead of humans with emotions and passions about how they want to be governed. A sort of shield between “the people” and their representatives. This isolation of the elected has removed them from the people who selected them to govern and who they presumably represent. Public comment has been religated to emails and some video comment, but for the most part, it is a frail substitute for actual public comment.
As a reporter, I’ve set in on pandemic government meetings, either in person or via video, and heard some staff members read public comment with all the passion and conviction of a wet noodle. Monotone and dry lacking the spirit the author intended. I don’t blame the staffer for the absence of sentiment they put into reading these public comments. First, I mean, after all these staffers are reading these messages to the people they work for and it’s not up to the staffer to relate these written messages with the enthusiasm the author meant. However, what officeholders need to hear is from their boss, “We the people.”
After more than a year, do these elected officials really want to hear from their constituents again? They’ve pretty much done what they want, when they want, without much fuss or cuss from the people. I’m sure they would like to keep the status quo, just taking the people’s vote and not their voice. Democracy is so much easier without the unwashed masses to tell them what they think.
The recent incident at the Buncombe County School Board meeting (see story page 5) might have given us some evidence that a whole generation of elected officials have been sullied by doing the people’s business under pandemic rules and might not be suitable for office when they have to face the voters.
Not one school board member took the time to address their constituents. To walk from their beloved “star chamber” into the fresh evening air and address those there about their most-prized possessions – their children. To remove their mask and let the people see their lips move and the expression on their face, to hear their concerns. To take the time to respond to this newspaper’s emails about the incident.
When elected officials become unresponsive to the majority or minority, they have lost touch with the voters and no longer represent the people but rule them. They are not fit to be called public servants or hold office.