Public criticism of city officials may be warranted in some communities - in some instances we certainly think it is - but it also shows just how difficult it is to strike a balance as a "public servant" between pushing for what you think is best for the city and keeping an open mind about the opinion of citizens.
Some residents have complained that members of the city council are sometimes argumentative or downright rude when citizens have the audacity to question their decisions or suggest alternatives to the direction the city is taking. Such complaints have surfaced over various issues.
Topics that involve considerable public expense, the safety of residents or decisions that will have a long-lasting impact on the city's residents are bound to create passionate differences of opinion. But that's never an excuse for brusk or rude behavior from either side of the microphone.
City councils should see public participation as a positive, but in some cases it appears as if council members and city managers would be happier if everyone would stay home and let them run the city as they please. That, of course, is preposterous. One reason people become passionate at council meetings is because they are dealing with issues that are personal, their homes, neighborhoods, jobs, recreation - their quality of life. They should have a say in decisions that affect that. And in an era when voters often feel disenfranchised by state and federal bureaucracies, citizens still feel connected to city government and the neighbors they've elected to run their cities.
City government may be considered small-time politics by some, but it's arguably the most important of society's many levels of governance. Those involved should bring good manners and mutual respect to the table. There's rightfully a high standard of behavior for public officials, starting with the smallest cities all the way to Washington, D.C.
Consequently, city residents should expect their council members to listen carefully and politely when they speak, without interrupting, without smirking, whispering to their neighbor or showing their annoyance through body language. Asking a lot? You bet. Because city managers, mayors and council members are both coach and referee - they should offer direction and encouragement like a good coach, while adhering strictly to the rules and keeping their heads about them while others lose theirs, like a good referee.
But it's a two-way street, which some Weston residents would do well to figure out. Council meetings there have degenerated into yelling matches at times, in part because of one of the most liberal public comment policies of any city council around. There should be ample time for public comment, but piping up at any old time during a meeting is counterproductive and rude. As we said before, civility should apply to all parties.
A spin off of the bickering in Weston is that another recall petition is in the works against the mayor. Now in his second term and after surviving a recall vote in 2001, you'd think detractors would accept three votes of the people as enough to show the majority is happy with the job he's doing.
Such criticism is a reminder that being an elected official in your hometown is in many ways an unenviable job. There's no pay but a big time commitment. There's lots of homework, because it takes lots of reading to stay up on the issues, which can get plenty complicated in the smallest of towns. But it's also voluntary, and if you decide to seek the votes of the public to get the job, you should be willing to hear what they think about the job you're doing.