I am posting about my experience in public office as an example of how to be an effective officeholder, and especially how a conservative elected official can successfully advance the cause of good government even in a challenging environment, such as a liberal urban one. I shall not reveal all of my methods of effectiveness, in case I am called upon to serve again, but I can note, for example, that I was inspired by Ronald Reagan’s belief that one can achieve much if one is not concerned with getting the credit.
I asked many questions of the staff, contractors, vendors and solicitors, both in order to inform myself in order to cast an informed vote, but also to establish accountability by exercising my oversight responsibility. I also learned that it was necessary to follow-up with administrators even after a resolution was passed or the Superintendent issued an order to ascertain whether or not the staff was following the instructions. The
was shockingly lacking
in openness and transparency, which became apparent almost immediately. It was the reason the District is under
federal and state criminal investigation for corruption. Thus, asking questions was also a method of
increasing transparency. Other
successful methods were requesting documents, making unannounced visits to
District buildings and opposing violations of the Sunshine Law. I also advocated for better openness for the
public in several ways in order to increase accountability and was a model of
it myself by informing both my colleagues of my actions and explaining matters
to the public at meetings and keeping the citizens informed through the media. Reading School District
There was one natural advantage of being a Republican in a Democratic-dominated city: I received few requests for patronage from members of my party. Most of the handful of such requests came from Democrats. I only promised the courtesy of an interview if my name were used by the applicant as a reference, in accordance with District policy. As a result, I was not burdened by patronage concerns and my interest in the taxpayers and students and not upon self-interest or partisan interest was thereby made all the more apparent.
Indeed, my mostly liberal Democratic colleagues recognized and respected my commitment to the students (e.g. in terms of safety and education) and taxpayers, my knowledge of parliamentary procedure and concern for process, and my preparation. Despite strong ideological differences, they entrusted me to draft all of the District’s new policies, for example. My colleagues came to respect me, at least to some degree, because I spoke my conscience in standing up for taxpayers, students and staff. I courageously expressed conservative views, even if I believed that my colleagues would sharply disagree. Not surprisingly, sometimes they did, even when an idea seemed non-ideological. However, I was often relieved that they agreed with some of my common-sense ideas, which encouraged me to feel free to express my principles, regardless of what they thought. Although we had very different ideas, there was much common ground, beyond the many non-controversial issues. When my colleagues and I did argue publicly, it was usually conducted in a respectful manner. I criticized the Superintendent publicly, but I seldom personally criticized my colleagues in public and only when necessary to defend myself. I avoided ad hominem arguments, even when the liberals did not. I did not carry grudges against my colleagues in order to work with them on whatever the next issue was.
I found it effective, if necessary, to force a debate on a matter and a vote, whether by a resolution or amendment. I rejected the anti-democratic argument advanced by one liberal colleague that a new board of directors cannot overturn something approved by a prior board. I was not afraid to cast a vote knowing that I would lose, even if I were the lone vote in opposition. I usually explained my vote briefly to the public, although there were times when I found it prudent to be silent. Sometimes when I did explain my vote clearly and with conviction, enough of my colleagues would gradually be persuaded to agree with me that when the issue arose again, the outcome was changed in favor of my position.