Sandbox politics in Parkersburg? Oh yeah.

I thought sandbox politics ended once you left kindergarten. Apparently I was wrong.

Remember those fairly recent commercials for Subway®? The ones with the co-workers eating sandwiches but whose voices are those of children? Yeah, like that. You expect adult behavior, but you get childish behavior. You expect adult voices, but what you get is the childish whine.

I wonder if anyone who attended the Parkersburg City Council meeting the other day walked out wondering what kind of spell turned these adults into children. I say that because the front-page article in the newspaper the next day didn’t mention a thing about that phenomenon, but I can’t imagine it didn’t happen.

See, Council Member Mike made a motion to appropriate funds to pave a section of a local street. It happened to be in his district, true, but it’s a heavily traveled street and it’s in need of repair. He brought that motion forward for several of his constituents – a motion that had received preliminary approval a few weeks ago. I suspect his voice was probably pretty normal.

The motion died for lack of a second. And that’s where the kids’ voices come in.

Fellow councilman Jim actually went on record as saying he didn’t support Mike’s motion because Mike didn’t support the user fee. I think his voice was, by this time, edging steadily upward. “I had a real problem with somebody who wouldn’t suport the user fee and then comes back for money,” he was quoted as saying. “He left us hanging out there and now wants to help us spend it. Mike was against the user fee – which is to be used for streets and now he wants to spend it.”

Huh? I’m sorry, but your voice got so high and childlike there, I’m not sure I heard correctly.

Councilman Jim even agreed with everything the residents put forth but said he just couldn’t bring himself to support the issue. “I agree it is a very important street in this town [but] we took a lot of heat for [the user fee]. I took a lot of heat. The mayor took a lot of heat. … When you don’t want to fight for the money, take the heat and then spend it on YOUR streets, it ticks me off.”

Oh. My. God.

Councilman Jim was referring specifically to Councilman Mike, one of four who opposed the user fee a year or so ago, which, by the way, passed.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding of statesmanship is that, when we have disagreements and we approach them with open minds and a respect for the dissenting opinions, it will spur discussion, which leads to idea generation and on into decisions that lead to action. It doesn’t mean everyone must always agree and be on the same page. It doesn’t mean we hate the opposition. It doesn’t mean anyone who disagrees with us is wrong. We agree to disagree. Sometimes we win and sometimes we lose. Either way, we become gracious losers and we remain gracious winners.

Or not. After all, we can’t get it right in national politics, either.

Let’s think about this sandbox issue, although I know it’s hard for kids to reason sometimes.

The user fee was hugely unpopular among residents of this city. I actually think it’s pretty unfair, myself. Minimum wage workers inside city limits must pay the same amount as fat cats who make hundreds of thousands. So I believe it really hurts those who merely eke out a living. I also wish they’d call it what it is – a tax – so I can deduct it. Ah, well.

I do understand that we live in a civilized (or so I thought) city, with services and real needs for revenue. So I’m willing to waffle a bit. I wish they’d figure out a more fair way to administer the fee, but until then, they’d better damn well realize they need to be fiscally careful when spending it.

So anyway, here’s a city council, made up of adults, or at least in physical body, who apparently are still sitting in the sandbox. I pretty much expected to read something like this before the end of the story:

“You didn’t bring me a cookie a year ago, so I’m not going to let you play with my shovels.”

The saddest thing is that the council’s childish grudge-holding mentality doesn’t just affect a fellow councilmember, it affects constituents and residents and drivers of cars. It’s certainly possible and plausible that the city would have said no to this request anyway – hard decisions, limited resources, and many needs – all must be weighed. Before the other members jump up and down and say they didn’t say anything, that’s the point. They didn’t. They remained silent, and silence is interpreted as agreement and support of said childish outbursts.

But that’s not what this decision was about, obviously. It was about punishing someone for disagreeing and speaking his mind and standing up for what he thought was right. He lost that fight, and that should have been the end of it. Sometimes we win and sometimes we lose, remember? Life goes on. Work together, for God’s sake.

But kids aren’t always so good at seeing the big picture, are they? Nor are they so good at sharing. Oh, and let’s not mention about how it’s pretty much always about them.

I guess it’s not until people grow up that they learn about what it takes to be good stewards and admirable statesmen and people worth emulating. Or so I thought. That’s a pretty big sandbox, and I’m embarrassed for the City of Parkersburg.

Quotations were taken directly from The Parkersburg News and Sentinel, July 25, 2012.

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