In politics, there are two kinds of people: those who serve, and those who want to be served. In our self-governing republic, men and women step forward—often spending large sums of money—to be servants. Some feel they are answering a deeply personal call to improve their community; others see an opportunity to serve themselves.
That self-service is all too familiar. Yes, there are those who seek to enrich themselves; the halls of Congress and our states’ legislatures are full of men and women who engage in legalized insider trading—legalized, because those who made the laws exempted themselves.
There are others who seek to build themselves up, collecting titles and accolades. They aren’t necessarily seeking financial enrichment, but personal glory.
All of those thoughts ran through my mind when I stumbled across the recent social media post of a man running for city council in Midland, Texas. I don’t know this fellow, or anyone in his race (or on the Midland City Council, for that matter) … but I am familiar enough with the type.
Jim Gerety is running for city council, as one might imagine, on the basis of his long-standing community participation. On the biography posted to his campaign website, evidence of his fitness for office is that he “currently serves on the City of Midland Airport Zoning Board of Adjustment.”
That’s important, you see, because it turns out Mr. Gerety hasn’t actually attended any of the board meetings. As it turns out, they meet only when they need to. A sitting member of the Midland City Council went on a local radio station and talked about how Gerety had been a no-show to the Airport Zoning Board meetings.
Gerety spends 1,176 rambling words (!) in a Facebook post explaining why it wasn’t his fault. He shifts blame in every possible direction. All sorts of reasons for his absenteeism flow forth from his keyboard, but they all built to a single crescendo. He didn’t show up – he explains – because the city staff had the email address wrong for him.
In the great pantheon of lazy politician excuses, “they had the wrong email address” has to be the laziest.
Because here’s rub: Mr. Gerety wasn’t drafted unwillingly to be on the city board; he chose to accept the appointment. One can easily imagine he chose to do so knowing it would look good on a political resume for city office. In fact, he actually does use it on his political resume, as noted above. But by agreeing to be on the board, he agreed to be on the board.
That means Gerety had a responsibility to ensure he was informed, asked more questions, triple-checked the notification systems used, talked to other board members… Instead, for Gerety, the fault is with the city staff for not doing the quadruple-checking for him; by his own words, he expected to be served.
In this, Mr. Gerety serves as a cautionary example for each of us in our self-governing republic. Some people, perhaps like Mr. Gerety, are too self-important to take personal responsibility for their civic duties. They wait to be asked. They expect to be coddled. They demand others do the hard work for them. But as a self-governing people, the responsibility for participation rests on us.
It isn’t the job of someone else to get me involved; it is my responsibility. I won’t have all the answers; I may not even know all the questions. But I can make the effort to be present.
But if we are to be effective citizens, the one thing we must do is show up. That’s always on us.