Graves' Yard: ‘From the Other Side of the Table’
by BRIAN GRAVES Banner Staff Writer
Apr 30, 2014 | 518 views | 0 0 comments | 32 32 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Several years ago, I gave thought to actually writing a book.

The idea came to me while I was serving on the Harriman Board of Education.

I had been to so many meetings and, as most do, believed I could ride in on a white horse and save the system from itself.

As is the case with most candidates, I saw too much money being spent, a lack of efficiency in services and a whole litany of other problems I thought could be solved or improved on with the smallest of actions.

But after serving for a time, the idea for the book came to me.

“From the Other Side of the Table” was to be a warning for all those who mean well and believe they have all the answers when running for office.

I never wrote the book, but after attending the recent political forum, I thought it might be time to give a condensed view of the points the book would have made — some for the candidates and some for the voters.

1. No matter how good your idea is, no elected body passes anything with just one vote.

It’s all there in Robert’s Rules of Order. It takes a majority of a full board to pass an item.

There is great folly in thinking all those grandiose ideas are just going to be put into place at the snap of someone’s fingers.

That is why anyone who is elected must have the art of getting along with their colleagues.

There will be disagreements along the way with those with whom you serve, but it is a matter of being able to discuss those ideas in an educated and civil manner.

I actually surprised myself at how right I would find those with whom I had strongly disagreed before I took my seat at the table.

And, I was also surprised at having those civil conversations with my colleagues on how ready they were to accept my ideas, and even at times make them better.

2. Things are usually not what they seem.

When elected to a governing body, the one thing quickly discovered is how much you did not know and maybe even how much you assumed.

I thought I had done my homework on the system’s finances when I ran.

After being elected, I found there was much inside those numbers that told a much fuller story than the raw numbers themselves.

Formulas, grants, reserve funds, state funds — all civil bodies deal with a chemist’s nightmare of funding an entity.

Each number is tied to another or sometimes more than one and all of those numbers are tied to agreements or contracts that might have been formulated long before current board members took their places.

When it comes to personnel matters, you find what you thought was a wasted position is actually one the system could not operate without.

There was one case for me when I found myself advocating a position’s raise when I had originally argued the position should be eliminated.

It is not that any of these things are being hidden from the public. It is they are the minutiae of operations very few dive into before mounting that proverbial white horse.

3. What may seem like an easy action now might become difficult later.

There were two occasions I found myself having to vote on the futures of two men who had been in their occupations almost twice as long as I had been alive.

I considered both of these men friends and they actually had supported my election.

One was accused of inappropriate behavior with a colleague and the other was simply not living up to the leadership job he held.

I went to both during their cases and was blunt with them as to their prognosis.

The evidence in the first was overwhelming and the die had been cast for a change of leadership in the other.

Either because of how I was raised or out of respect for their long service, I gave both the hard truths and strongly recommended they take the retirement they had earned after working for so long.

I had never had a person look at me before and ask me how I would vote on their future.

Again, in both cases I was frank and honest.

“No,” I told them. “And, I’m sorry.”

Neither took the retirement advice and the votes to dimiss and replace both were unanimous.

The facts and evidence made it easy. The human part is very, very hard.

4. There is a long list of decisions for which there is no good answer.

I thought about this one when the candidates were discussing the situation at Lake Forest Middle School.

From what I understood, the school is in need of some major repairs and renovations.

So, what would you decide as a county commissioner?

As vitally important as law enforcement is, do you cut that to make room for the school’s needs?

Or do you scale back emergency services?

Or delay a road project that eases transportation difficulties in a growing county?

Or do you raise taxes?

Or do you just say “forget it” for now?

It is so easy — and true — to say we need to take care of the kids and their education. Unfortunately, the answer is not a simple one.

In many cases, there are no answers at all.

5. It is a lot different getting yelled at than being the one yelling.

I used to go to the meetings and, in a respectful way, tell the board what they were doing wrong.

I saw many others doing it in a not-so-respectful way.

Passions do sometimes flare at these things and I have seen a lot of it over the years — some that have even come close to fisticuffs.

It is one thing to criticize, but it is another to be criticized and for those who will be newly elected, you better get that skin toughened before you take office.

Even those who rooted for you and the stands you took will not be so nice when — after you have immersed yourself in all the facts and figures in those large notebooks you will receive — you find yourself having to vote in a way that will both surprise and anger your supporters.

This is where you need to be prepared at all times to allow the people to have their say and hope they will listen when you explain to them — and you need to make that explanation — why you took the action you did.

If you have done your homework, I have found most will understand.

But, I can assure you there is no such thing as 100 percent love and appreciation for any public official.

Sitting on that side of the table is tough, demanding, hard, confusing and sometimes disturbing.

Despite all of that, it can also be one of the most rewarding things you will ever do — just as long as you do it in the proper way and for the right reasons.