Earlier this week, the Albany City Council met for the first time this year and a new councilor was sworn in along with two incumbents who had been reelected. I have been a part of many of these ceremonies over the years, and I’ve come to appreciate the good fortune we enjoy when citizens step forward to serve their communities.
I have worked for nine mayors and I can’t remember how many different councilors during my city government career. I think the majority of these folks have been fairly conservative with a few gravitating toward one extreme end or the other of the political spectrum. Nearly all have been genuinely nice people wanting to do the right thing for their communities. The only exceptions were a couple who seemed more interested in their selfish concerns than in the welfare of the town.
As I near retirement, I sometimes worry about the rough consensus that has existed in our community and in places across the country that has created conditions leading to prosperity and livability. People have always had strong political opinions, but nearly all the people I’ve worked for have observed basic courtesies and refrained from vicious personal attacks. The advent of social media where people can post or twitter really nasty stuff may be changing the civic environment. National leaders are not helping the situation, and it may be that younger people just assume that nastiness is a necessary part of the democratic process. I hope not.
Humiliation and degradation rarely, if ever, enable collaborative efforts. Governing at all levels is an exercise in getting people to agree enough to do things that need to get done. Respect and consideration are important values for people interested in achieving collective goals. I routinely see this behavior at our city council meetings and only rarely see personal animosity. We have strong personalities on the Council with very different views of the world, yet they frequently show concern and consideration for one another.
As mayors and councilors have changed over time, there has been an ongoing commitment to trying to improve Albany. New infrastructure projects like the water and wastewater treatment plants, new facilities like the library and police and fire stations, downtown renovation, economic development projects, and social service initiatives have succeeded with support from councilors, regardless of their political affiliation.
I think the new Council will retain many of the same values we’ve seen during my tenure as City Manager, and I think that’s a good thing. The differences are likely to be positive as well. We don’t do much to celebrate the peaceful transition of power at the local level, perhaps because we have become too cynical about politics at all levels. We may want to turn our attention away for a moment from a gaudy presidential inauguration and give quiet thanks for the countless people who volunteer to oversee many of the critical services that most affect our lives.