Lexington town hall meeting

Former Lexington Mayor Marcia Kemp speaks to a crowd of residents in July at city hall, explaining what steps she took after the city council failed to pass a budget before the start of the fiscal year.

Filling the role of a local politician isn’t easy.

Let’s face it, the people we elect to city council positions or mayoral slots are not doing it for the money. They don’t go home from city council or county commission meetings with the promise of a sack full of cash waiting.

No, the work of local elected leaders can be thankless, but we need area residents who care about their communities to step up and get involved.

On the other side of the coin, though, those same local politicians have an obligation to listen to concerns from all voters. Even if that input appears to be, at first glance, distasteful or the elected leader disagrees with the sentiments of a voter.

Democracy is a two-way street. While admittedly it can be messy, its proper function depends upon a civil discourse between those who are elected and those who voted. Area politicians owe taxpayers — voters and constituents — the freedom to speak freely. That doesn’t mean voters have a blank check to use profanity or scream and yell at a local politician or make unfounded accusations. What it does mean is voters should be able to feel comfortable to address their elected leaders on mundane subjects or controversial issues.

Whether it is Pendleton or Lexington, anyone who steps forward with a public comment needs to be heard.

Public officials already have the luxury of multiple platforms to get their message out. Voters do not. Politicians are quoted in news stories on radio and websites, across social media and in public forums. In a sense, on this issue at least, the playing field is slightly tilted in their favor.

Voters, though, typically get two opportunities to voice their concerns — during an election or at a public meeting during public comment periods.

We applaud local towns that hold public meetings or public comment periods. Realistically, they don’t have to do that. But when area politicians take the time to listen to their constituents, it shows not only concern but a genuine interest in the body politic.

Ridiculing a voter — no matter who he or she is or what they do — is a wrong answer for a locally elected leader.

When such incidents occur, it quickly illustrates a broken link between voters and those elected to represent them.

Courtesy really is a big deal in a democracy and it is sadly missing in a lot of places across our great nation.

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