It’s election season again, and candidates of every description compete for attention. Faced with information overload, many people just vote their party. Others don’t vote at all. But there is one race where your thoughtful vote counts and the outcome matters — for the Maryville City Council.
Among our local races, the council election stands out for me. I’ve sat in on and even spoken during council meetings. I’ve listened to members discuss issues and make decisions that have affected my life. After seven years here, I have an appreciation for the difficulty of their jobs.
Maybe that’s why I am concerned.
I love politics in Maryville, especially the comfortable collegiality. We mostly know one another, or at least know of one another. Our elections are calm affairs, which serves us well. I want to keep it that way. But at the same time, in the face of so much change elsewhere, the routine nature of this year’s City Council race feels disarming.
Part of the problem is our good fortune. Maryville is a quiet and well-managed town. We have outstanding schools, exceptional health care and excellent law enforcement. There is no evident racial conflict, and the history and tradition that bind us are points of pride. As a city, we’re pretty comfortable.
But we are not an island, and today is not a model for tomorrow. We have all watched recent events unfold across the country. Sure, budgets and roads and growth and zoning will always be important. However, we now know the job of running a city can change overnight. Ask school boards elected before COVID-19, or mayors in Kenosha or Portland or Louisville, or any elected official in the burning towns out West.
I would like to see more awareness in our City Council race of this uncertain future. I would like to know how candidates are thinking about this, and how they would shepherd the city through changing social norms. And so, because I like poking sticks at things, here are some questions for them:
• Our City Council is nonpartisan, and we are stronger for that. Indeed, I’ve yet to witness partisanship within any of our city institutions. But it threatens towns everywhere, and it can poison ours. If it surfaces here, will you denounce it?
• Maryville has almost 30,000 residents, according to the Census Bureau’s latest American Community Survey. About 2,100 are minorities, and about 3,200 live in poverty. What specifically will you do to represent these individuals? How will you give voice to their concerns and improve their lives?
• Most of us know only a fraction of Maryville’s 17 square miles. The downtown we love holds relatively few of the city’s businesses and fewer of its homes. How specifically will you represent the entire city, including its less visible neighborhoods and businesses?
• Change will come to Maryville. Whether it comes over years or overnight, it will inevitably rock the boats of tradition and convention. What will you do to get ahead of change, to manage it and ensure that it takes us somewhere better?
• Local government is an amalgam of institutions, traditions and relationships. They are the foundation that ensures constancy and continuity. How will you defend and protect these in the face of change? Or how will you help them evolve if change is necessary?
• Some believe a government should be run like a business. I disagree. In my view, city management has many dimensions, but turning a profit is not one of them. What are your own thoughts on this issue? How do you view fiscal responsibility relative to that of ensuring the public welfare and common good?
I hope these questions stimulate substantive dialogue, both among voters and between voters and candidates. If so, the City Council race could become a springboard to a more progressive city, one that might avoid the unpleasant surprises many other towns are facing. Maryville deserves nothing less.