Anonymous criticism contributes to dysfunctional culture
In the military, you’re either training or fighting. Prior to 9/11, all we did was train. I remember thinking during one training exercise as we all sat around a map planning our mission, that if our training scenario was real, we’d have access to better intelligence, better resources, and a “real” plan from the higher ups.
Fast forward to early 2003, and I found myself sitting around a different map in Kuwait with roughly the same group of people planning the movement of the 82d Airborne Division into Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein. We didn’t have better intelligence. We didn’t have access to better resources and no plan emerged from the experts. We figured it out ourselves and executed.
I thought of that earlier this week as 10 of us sat around a table working through the complexities of the Airport Authority. The Airport Authority is an all-volunteer board of people from a variety of backgrounds — some with aviation experience, some without — figuring out the best way to move the airport forward and be good fiscal managers of taxpayer money. The board has been well-appointed by the city and the county and is made up of people with different perspectives due to different experiences which add value to the overall conversation in order to come up with better solutions for this important economic driver.
This certainly isn’t unique to the airport. There are volunteer boards and committees sitting around tables all across the valley using the limited resources they have available to make the best decisions they can for their particular area of responsibility. Most of those decisions involve how to be good stewards of public money. Sometimes there are resources to hire consultants to help navigate a particularly complex subject, but most of the time it falls to the boards to do their own research, work through multiple scenarios, and try to make the best decisions they can.
The decisions made at these tables aren’t always popular, or easy, and sometimes they aren’t even right, but I have to believe that they’re made with the best of intentions by the volunteers trusted with that responsibility. Open meetings laws, while cumbersome and slow, protect these volunteer groups by documenting their decision-making process and exposing the rationale behind their conclusions.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to succinctly explain the background of all the decisions made around all of those tables to the public at large. So when four-hour board meetings are reduced to one headline — especially if its an unpopular headline — the knee-jerk reaction is that boards are ignorant, mismanaged, or worst case — corrupt. Most folks are busy. Busy with jobs and families and all the stuff that comes with getting through another day. Most of us don’t have the time to dig down into all the decisions made by all the decision-making authorities across the valley to get to the heart of the issues. Combine that with an intense distrust of government that seems to get worse with each passing year and we’ve developed a strange and dysfunctional culture where it’s easy to sit back and sling insults at the people working — many times as volunteers — to better our community. We no longer trust our governing structure which really means we no longer trust our friends and neighbors serving within that structure. I’m not sure how to solve that.
But I do know where to start and it’s with You Said It — the section of Sunday’s paper where anyone can anonymously comment on local issues, regardless of whether their comment is factually correct or not. You Said It has become ground zero for the slinging of misinformation, name-calling, and the slow degradation of all the hard work done by well-meaning people during the previous week.
Want to comment on local issues? Have strong, well-informed opinions on a topic? Write a letter to the editor and sign your name. Want to just add to the noise and build confusion in order to undo what so many people have worked hard to do? Submit to You Said It. And since it’s anonymous, there’s no need for the accountability or fact-checking required by the rest of the paper — and the entire journalism industry for that matter.
Get rid of You Said It. Maybe without that platform, some of those folks who claim to know so much will actually write a letter and sign their names or, more importantly, join the rest of us in solving the community’s problems, one taxpayer dollar at a time.