Dear Mayor and Geneva City Councilors:
Enough is enough.
We’ve had enough with the chaotic way that Council meetings are run, with the way that some councilors walk out of meetings, whether they be in-person or on Zoom, how some roll their eyes disdainfully while their colleagues are speaking. Enough with the snide, nasty and often personal remarks about each other, comments that have nothing to do with city business and have no place in public discourse. Enough with meetings that last four hours with very little being accomplished. We’ve had enough of councilors saying they wish they could shoot out a TV screen when those who didn’t have the same opinion as them were speaking, and of councilors stopping traffic during a rally when, again, those rallying did not harbor the same opinion.
In short, we’ve had enough of the city being made a laughingstock in the eyes of other neighboring cities, villages and towns because that’s exactly what we are these days.
Monday’s “work session” was the lowest of the low, devolving into such a mess that it was embarrassing to watch, a train wreck that has drawn almost 5,000 sets of eyeballs on YouTube when most such videos draw 200-300.
We’re tired of having videos like that define us, going viral not because of some great, exciting plan for Geneva but rather because of the antics of our city leaders.
It’s time — it’s well past time, actually — to be better.
This is not directed at one political party or another because frankly, at the grassroots level of government that is our city, we don’t feel parties mean that much — levelheaded people do, policies do, plans that move Geneva forward do, steady leadership does; sadly, we’ve witnessed none of those from this Council. There’s plenty of political one-upmanship, for sure, but zero real guidance.
By default, much of the blame for what’s gone wrong falls on the Mayor’s shoulders. It has to. He’s out front, the leader, the person wielding the gavel. Meetings have been uneven, sometimes out of control — and way too cumbersome — right from the start, even before the gut punch of COVID- 19 that forced them to be held virtually, which led to even more issues.
Not all the blame is his, though.
Monday’s meeting was described using these words: disappointing, hijacked, outrage, embarrassing, derailed, melee, despicable, unethical, poor leadership. Were those our words? No. They were some of the nine words or phrases — each from a different Council member — when we asked for your reaction to the fiasco.
In other words, all nine of you obviously realized exactly what was happening, yet no one assisted in calming things down or in helping the Mayor regain control and legitimacy. Some of you were more inciteful than others, some of you were loud and accusatory, some of you said nothing. But you all are complicit because you let it happen.
It’s time for real leaders to step up. It is totally acceptable to disagree with your fellow councilors, to debate, to dissent. That is how many substantial decisions and plans are arrived at. But all we’ve seen out of this Council is disrespect, disregard and, above all, discord.
No less a leader than John F. Kennedy was noted for saying that when he held a meeting he enjoyed being the dumbest person in the room. He certainly was not, but the point was he wanted — needed — to hear from others, from those he trusted and those whose opinions he valued, even if the opinions varied from his own. Many of our councilors appear to think that they are the smartest person in the room — or on the Zoom screen — and that only their opinion matters.
We’re also tired of those who fall back on the overused “I am going to do what I do because of the people in my ward who elected me.” It’s true that is the reason you are on this Council, but many of you received 300 votes or less to win your ward. That’s out of 6,870 registered voters in a city of about 13,000 residents. Your 300 votes represent a grand total of 4% of registered voters and 2% of city residents. And all you care to do is represent those who voted for you? Really?
You were elected by your ward, yes, and you need to champion the causes of those folks as much as possible, but your larger role is to make Geneva a better place to work and live — all of Geneva, not just your ward. U.S. senators are elected by residents of their state and, of course, need to press for as much for their states as they can. But, collectively, their votes and their decisions set policies and measures for every single person in the United States. So should you all be working for every single person in Geneva.
We haven’t given up hope. This Council is nearing the halfway point of its term and can still turn things around. Mr. Mayor, we implore you to take firm control, disallow the personal bickering in open sessions, be assertive when audience members and outside groups are disruptive, press to keep everyone focused on the tasks at hand. Councilors, put your petty and personal differences aside. We don’t care who you like and who you don’t like; we really don’t. Besides, you absolutely do not have to like each other to get essential work accomplished, whether it be police reform, dealing with overwhelming tax issues, economic development, or simply getting our streets plowed.
Geneva has a lot going for it, but it also has problems. We deserve leadership from our elected officials that is forthright, sincere, honest and, above all, respectful and respectable as these issues are handled and as our city strives to meet its full potential.
So, enough with the rancor. Start getting some real work done.