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  • Last modified 221 days ago (July 27, 2023)

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When hot air
gets overheated

You can’t always get what you want

You can’t always get what you want

You can’t always get what you want

But if you try sometimes, well, you might find

You get what you need

— Rolling Stones

We’re not in the habit of assuming wisdom in classic rock lyrics, but Keith Richards and Mick Jagger got it right back in 1969.

We’d much rather be talking to you today about the upcoming fall semester, when grandson Henry, a “commended” scholar in the National Merit program, will be heading off to engineering college at Purdue in hope of becoming — yes, quite literally — a rocket scientist.

We’d love to take pride in how he’s the third generation in our family to be a tuba player — a much better one, we might add, than any in previous generations.

A trip with his high school orchestra last spring to perform at Carnegie Hall and his award for being the best member of that group prove that point much better than forcing readers to listen to a recording — heaven help us if one exists — of our own rendition of Edvard Grieg’s “Hall of the Mountain King” as a tuba solo back when the Stones were writing their lyrics.

For us, this week is proving to be a sandwich of experiences — the relaxation of a scheduled massage Wednesday in-between two equally tense events — a Marion City Council meeting on Monday and an almost as uncomfortable colonoscopy on Friday.

Regular readers may wonder why so much of this week’s paper contains so much about everything from petty squabbles to pretty worrisome increases in taxes involving Marion. It’s not, as some of them probably will point out, what they want each week. But it is what they need.

As a group, our reporters cover dozens of governmental units. We have a very experienced team — dozens of years of experience, both here and elsewhere. The one thing all agree upon is that Marion is different. Its council tends to be more combative and more secretive than any other group they’ve covered.

A learned man, who happens to be running unopposed for mayor this fall, suggests that newspapers should ignore stupid things said and done by officials. He contends such things should be dealt with quietly, behind closed doors. That, he says, is the small-town way of doing things.

Well, we tried that for a decade or so. All that happened was that things got worse. Now it’s time to shine the disinfecting light of publicity on how our elected representatives perform in public.

Many doubtlessly will contend that current unpleasantness is a matter of personalities. Once new members come on board, they think, the city council will be transformed.

The problem is, the discord that the city council has been known for has lived for decades, with multiple different people trading pot shots. The mayor, in his current or previous role, has been a common thread through many of those years, but it’s not just him. And it’s certainly not whoever might be his current nemesis on the council.

Marion’s form of government is unique and poorly defined in charter ordinances. Even the council and city attorney have admitted as much. They did so in January and promised it would be addressed. That, however, was the last we heard of any effort to clean things up.

Worse yet, many officials — not just council members but members of community boards, as well — seem reluctant to invest the time needed to represent the public’s interest.

They’re content to revel in their status and play regal Romans, casting thumbs up or down to whatever proposals are presented to them.

This, in turn, has led to a bureaucracy that puts a premium not on engaging officials but on not letting them worry their pretty little heads over details and asking them only to vote yea or nay on entire packages without studying them. Information that could shed light on issues is carefully guarded, its release limited to whatever seems to support a desired decision.

Representatives who want to do more than just rubber-stamp whatever is presented to them are understandably upset, and that’s where trouble begins, with arguments based on whatever limited facts they have been able to obtain.

After breathing in all the hot air from our stories this week, think about how greater openness, contrary to what our mayoral candidate might say, could cure what ails our community.

The choice is between healthy if untidy discourse, based on facts, or unhealthy and unruly arguments that arise in part because of the difficulty getting anything more than fragmentary information.

Opening up might just be the thing that, if we try, will give us what we need.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified July 27, 2023

 

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