In our scheme of government, we elect representatives to take a stand on issues that affect their constituents. Among those representatives, leaders take a stand. Politicians don’t.
Leaders study the issues and decide what policy best supports the interests of their constituents as a whole. Politicians take a position based on what is best for the advancement of their own interests.
As I approach the end of my first term as a Washougal Councilman, I note the number of times a small minority has encouraged the council to avoid taking a stand on issues by stopping the conversation. Sometimes it is done with parliamentary maneuvers limiting debate, tabling an issue, or refusing to let an issue come forward for consideration.
Sometimes the attempts are more subtle, trying to pressure council members to avoid an issue because it might be “controversial,” or beyond the scope of the city’s authority, or its consideration “an embarrassment.” Other factors also work to limit discussion.
In addition to the debate limiting and pressure tactics, the Washington Open Public Meetings Act limits discussion among council members to ensure that decisions are made only at public meetings. That limitation increases the importance of debate at public meetings. Let’s have that debate.
To be sure, council members have raised controversial issues. Some issues considered by the council in recent years include illegal immigration, E-Verify (a federal database identifying legal workers), and rail traffic. The most recent one concerns the Columbia River Crossing (CRC) project. But controversy should not deter council members from debating these issues, because each of these issues affects the people of Washougal. And because they affect our constituents, council members should take a stand on these issues. They should be leaders, not politicians.
We are not just Washougal citizens — we are Washingtonians — and Americans. If we want our government at all levels to protect our interests, we must communicate those interests.
One way of communicating our interests to local, state and federal levels is by passing a council resolution on issues being considered by other levels of government. Resolutions convey the city’s opinion, as determined by council majority vote, on topics that affect our constituents. They enable the council to take a stand.
Does anyone believe that conveying to our port, county, state and federal representatives our opinion of the consequences of their actions is a bad idea? Does anyone think that the actions of these governments do not affect Washougal? Should we not comment on those consequences – in advance of the action? Or should we content ourselves with complaints after the fact?
Our representatives at other levels of government have expressed their desire to hear from us, and advised the use of resolutions to convey our opinions. Let’s take their advice. We may not have the power to make these decisions, but we can influence those who do.
On Monday, March 25, the Washougal City Council voted four to three to table a resolution opposing the CRC in its present form. A variety of procedural objections were raised before the vote but determined to be invalid.
One of my council colleagues even had the impertinence to suggest that if those of us opposing the CRC in its present form wanted to take a position on issues under consideration by other levels of government we should run for office at those levels. He subsequently asserted his ardent support for debating issues. Somehow, those two statements seem contradictory.
On Monday, April 8, the Washougal City Council will again take up the issue of a resolution opposing the Columbia River Crossing in its current form. I will be asking my council colleagues to take a stand, debate the issue on its merits, and pass a resolution to convey our position to governments at every level. I urge you to email your city council representatives and encourage their participation in this effort. Their email addresses are available on the Washougal city website at www.cityofwashougal.us/home/city-council27.html.
The council has heard from the few who consistently attend council meetings and town halls to advance their political agenda. We need to hear from the rest of you about how you perceive your interests. And, as your representatives, we need to take a stand. Please communicate that need to your city council representatives.
Dave Shoemaker is a member of the Washougal City Council. He can be reached at 210-4654 or firstname.lastname@example.org.