Diminishing Our Community

There’s an intense political discussion taking place in San Carlos today. It involves one of my City Council colleagues, Matt Grocott, and was sparked by the tone and content of comments he made when the Council was considering a moratorium on new firearm stores at its November 13th meeting.

I, too, was taken aback by the tone of Matt’s pre-vote comments. So much so that I made the point, during the Council member comment period, that they didn’t reflect the way I wanted to see the Council interact with the community, because I didn’t want any community member, on any side of any issue, feeling inhibited about sharing their opinions with us.

There is an online petition currently circulating asking that Matt not be appointed the next mayor[1]. There have also been complaints filed, to be investigated by Bob Grassilli, the current mayor, that Matt’s comments violated the San Carlos Code of Conduct[2],[3].

These are reasonable actions for community members to pursue. The 1st Amendment guarantees the right to petition the government, and having a Code of Conduct requires we hold ourselves accountable for following it.

But there is one part of the community dialog that concerns me. Some are saying, because Matt does not at all represent their views, or the views of anyone they know, that he does not represent San Carlos.

That’s simply incorrect. Matt “represents San Carlos” in the only way any elected official represents a community: because he was elected[4]. The fact that he may not represent the interests of a lot of people does not mean he doesn’t represent the interests of a lot of other people…all of whom are part of San Carlos.

When we extrapolate from “that person doesn’t represent my views, at all!” to “that person doesn’t represent my community!”, we’ve just put ourselves in charge of defining what San Carlos is. And no one of us can or should do that.

Does that mean we, as individuals, must accept a community leader we don’t approve of? Absolutely not. We can petition the Council to deny him his turn as mayor. We can file Code of Conduct complaints. We can tell him, during public comment at a Council meeting, that we don’t agree with his views and/or the way he expresses them. We can mount recall campaigns. We can work to get other candidates elected, the next time he runs for office.

The one thing we can – but shouldn’t! – do is de-legitimize his role as a community leader. However unintentionally, that undermines the entire basis of constitutional representative democratic government. Which isn’t something (I hope!) any of us want.

Because it implicitly disenfranchises people whose views differ from our own. Besides the fact that we wouldn’t want that done to us, it creates a volatile situation that history shows can explode into violence. If someone believes they’re cut off from their community, and they can’t or don’t want to leave, what other choice do they have than to fight? While I’m not worried about war breaking out in San Carlos, there are other forms of violence, all of which are destructive of community.

I’d rather we show others how to do government right: challenge each other, as hard as necessary, to work out the rules governing San Carlos. But always be willing to kick back with our opponents at the end of the day and enjoy the sunset over a beer. Because if we can’t, all we’ve done is diminish ourselves, and our community.

[1] Mayors are elected by the Council, and serve for a year, typically in rotation based on when someone was elected.

[2] Depending upon Bob’s review, the Code allows the Council to take various actions.

[3] In the interests of full disclosure, I was myself the subject of a Code of Conduct complaint, which was found to be baseless, during the year when I was mayor.

[4] In fact, he’s won election four times in a row, starting in 2001.

2 thoughts on “Diminishing Our Community”

  1. Regina Tassie Jenkins

    I believe his comments were hostile and his values do not represent the majority of the community. He is certainly entitled to his opinions, just as we as a community are entitled to voice our well-founded concern in his abilty to serve as an unbiased and level-headed public servant. We don’t want a major whose motto is “This is not a democracy this is a republic”

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