Dubuque citizens taught me a lot over the four school board terms they gave me.
Dubuquers are knowledgeable, supportive, common sensical and caring … and they’ve set me straight many times.
Here’s a “greatest hits” list of wise nuggets our citizens taught this elected official, either directly or indirectly, over the past 18 years. Every local, county, state and federal elected official should reflect on the wisdom that I’ve heard loud and clear from our Dubuquers.
1. The citizens own the joint.
2. You don’t own your elected seat, you borrow it from the citizens.
3. All citizens own the joint, not just those you like or agree with politically.
4. Remember that pesky little phrase “Taxation without representation”? You, elected official, are the representation. That’s how governmental bodies work: Citizens create government to solve citizens’ problems and because they pay for it, the citizens get to pick who runs those governmental bodies.
5. Taxes should really be called “citizen money.” Spend it responsibly. Remember, you don’t ask for it each year, you just take it.
6. Citizens deserve the truth about what’s going on, why you want their votes and what you are really up to. Spin doctors and hidden agendas are a threat to democracy. Transparency is a must in every decision-making process.
7. Citizens deserve strategic plans from elected bodies so they know where you’re taking them.
8. Citizens hate rubber stamps and “group think.” They’re comfortable with an occasional respectable donnybrook, as it reassures them that their elected representatives haven’t become a “good ol’ boys/girls club.” And citizens deserve representatives who will call out other governmental leaders when warranted.
9. Citizens want government to reflect their collective value system. Pitchforks and torches come out when policies conflict with citizen values.
10. When citizens are uninformed, it doesn’t mean they’re not paying attention. It means you need to do a more effective job communicating with them.
11. The media is not a villain; it’s your communication partner.
12. Being elected doesn’t allow you to exclude citizen input. “We are the chosen ones” is the mantra of every off-the-mark elected official chased out of office for bad decisions. Citizens understand when you disagree, but not when you ignore input.
13. Citizens want to help. And when they offer input through emails and phone calls, be courteous; respond to each one.
14. Check your ego at the door. Citizens are always the smartest people in the room. But don’t assume because a group loads up the room with loud voices that all citizens feel the same way. Strong elected officials make it their responsibility to have a nose for general citizen sentiment. Rest assured, if you’re wrong, the citizens will let you know.
15. Don’t be condescending toward citizens who voice concerns without knowing the whole story. Of course, citizens can’t understand complex issues like you do; you have more information! Search for the nuggets of wisdom concerned citizens bring you in exchange for explaining what they don’t understand.
16. Dig your well before you’re thirsty. Make your organization admirable, use proper process, and respect citizens and the media before you want something — like a re-election vote or a vote for more tax.
17. One final reminder: The citizens own the joint!
Representing Dubuque citizens is an honor. They care deeply about local, county, state and federal issues. They deserve strong representation by their elected officials. And why not? After all, they truly own the joint.