The Timing of Municipal Elections: Maybe Father Doesn’t Know Best

The Timing of Municipal Elections: Maybe Father Doesn’t Know Best

True confession: I tend to be something of a know-it-all.

Probably why I’m a blogger . . .

I realize that this is a character flaw. I don’t know what’s best all the time. Maybe more importantly, even if I do know what’s best, I don’t have the right to tell everyone else what to do.

With my oldest child just turning 47 (while my youngest is still a “tween-ager” . . . a long and wonderful story for another time), I’ve had decades of confronting my demon of control, of struggling to let go and let life teach its lessons. I have come to realize that it is both impossible and unwise to protect my kids from all struggle and suffering. These are the forces that temper the material of which we are made; they make us stronger, wiser, richer in experience, and more noble of character . . . if we choose to let them.

So if I truly want my kids to be responsible adults, I have to get out of life’s way and let life happen.

I am still a long way from being cured of my “know-it-all-itis.” But I’ve had an amazing revelation.

On balance, over time, my adult kids have thrived as much in times of adversity as in times of ease. Maybe, just maybe, they have done better when things were a little tougher than when they were easy.

And the way they have done better . . . the solutions, the character development . . . has been amazing.

I know, looking at those journeys, that I would have made different decisions if I had been in charge. I also know that my decisions wouldn’t necessarily have been better than the ones my kids made. And I know that, whether my ideas would have been better or worse, my adult kids had a right to make those decisions and to reap the rewards or struggle with the consequences.

The same could and should be said of municipalities in relation to the state.

Every legislative session, bills are introduced that would deprive cities of authority and place it in the hands of “Father Florida.” Some of these preemption bills simply reflect legislators’ disagreement with what some cities have done. Some reflect the influence of business or other interests that have been on the losing end of the democratic process in local communities.  These interests have figured out that it is easier to lobby a few members of the state legislature than to talk to the elected representatives of hundreds of cities.

I get that.

But easier isn’t better. Easier is just . . . well, cheaper . . . in both senses of the word.

The citizens of Florida, when we adopted our current constitution, decided that cities were adults, not minors. We decided that the councilmembers and mayors we elected were at least as likely to be responsive to our wishes as our state elected officials. We did not ask the state to exercise parental authority over the duly elected representatives we, the voters, chose to guide our cities.

One can go a step further and say that we were confident that we could correct our local elected leaders if they strayed away from what we wanted. Sometimes, it only takes one victory in a council election to turn the tide. In almost every case, it takes no more than four victories. And such electoral reversals, at the municipal level, happen all the time . . . much more often than they happen in state legislative races.

Part of the reason for this greater electoral accountability is that the price of running for municipal office, in most of our 411 cities, remains modest. Many cities run their elections at off times to ensure that candidates can gain the attention of voters and address local issues, rather than being wrapped up in statewide and national partisan battles that have little to do with keeping the street lights lit, the police patrolling and the trash collected. Pounding the pavement and visiting with neighbors and clubs often is enough to carry the day.

One of efforts at preemption this legislative session would strip cities of the authority to decide when to hold their elections. It is “Father Florida” asserting he “knows best” how and when cities should elect their leaders.

So let me say this, Dad to Dad: Maybe, just maybe, we don’t know what’s best. And maybe, just maybe, we should respect the wisdom of our municipalities, our state’s adult children . . . and the citizens who conceived them.

2 Responses to The Timing of Municipal Elections: Maybe Father Doesn’t Know Best

  • jimfrishe

    Nice analogy, except for one thing. Citizen’s conceived cities only to the extent that they elected the Legislature. Cities are creations of the Legislature who also have the power to dissolve them. Citizen’s can usually dissolve a city if its charter allows for that, but otherwise, you have to go to the Legislature.

    • Dr. Scott Paine

      Not to get too deep into an analogy, but . . .

      While it is true that a city in Florida is created, ultimately, by a special act of the Legislature, the Legislature does not adopt such special acts until the citizens of an area decide that they want to form a city, and rarely (I’m not personally aware of any time in recent memory, but I’m being cautious) do they refuse to do what the citizens of that nascent city ask. So, to stretch the analogy a tad, the Legislature is more like the midwife. The people conceive the city, then come to the Legislature to assist them in birthing it (which, as a good midwife, the Legislature generally and willingly does).

      This is an important contrast to some other states where cities are truly creatures of the state government without any sovereign authority. It’s an important distinction; we have home rule because we, the citizens, chose to secure that right to ourselves in our cities. It should be respected.

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