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LaFreniere makes dangerous suggestion E-mail
Opinion
Wednesday, 09 August 2017 09:27

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L&T Publisher Earl Watt



Doug LaFreniere is one of the few in history that was ever elected to both the Liberal City Commission and the Seward County Commission. 

Doug has given some of the best quips an elected official could ever deliver, including a debate over who was in control of certain areas of the Seward County Fairgrounds. He clearly painted a picture of who owned the property when he said, “Everything the light touches belongs to the taxpayers.”

Last night, Doug spoke at the Liberal City Commission meeting during public comments, and while some of what he said has merit, he also made a very dangerous suggestion.

Let’s start with the good.

Doug encouraged the Commission and said they had made some great accomplishments.

It can never be denied that Liberal has seen some robust retail growth recently, and the passage of CIDs and TIFs will undoubtedly result in more growth. The Commission and staff should be commended for these projects.

Doug also criticized the Leader & Times for running a story about grants issued by the FAA and showing that Liberal was not on the list.

He asked City Manager Mark Hall if he applied for any grants, and the answer was no.

That’s a fair observation. However, when the FAA has said that any grant requests would be on hold in a memo to the City, requesting and being denied would cast a bad light on the city. Not applying at all would be the best position politically, even if harmful to local taxpayers.

Doug also admitted that the Commission had some problems they needed to fix before the majority of the board is out of office after the people voted last week during the primary and chose to place three new commissioners on the panel after the upcoming general election.

On the surface, recognizing problems and challenging the board to solve them seems like an earnest request to listen to the voters. Would this group of commissioners solve the STEM jet controversy, or finally replace the funds to the Airport Land Use Fund as required by the FAA, problems that could easily be solved by this commission?

But those weren’t the “problems” Doug mentioned.

Instead, he mentioned the “negative voices” that serve on boards, and he challenged the Commission to “get rid of them.”

First, it must be pointed out that Doug’s wife Karen is the head of the Housing Department for the City of Liberal, so Doug has a vested interest in the status quo. Changes could affect his household.

But Doug’s suggestion that anyone who dissents on a local board, anyone who might be perceived by the Commission as “negative” should be removed is dangerous to a representative form of government.

Is the purpose of a local board to rubber stamp decisions made by the city staff, or are they deliberative, meant to review areas where the public interest should be best served?

Boards should represent all of Liberal and not just the position of three commissioners as Doug suggested last night.

For all the discussion of how diverse Liberal is and how we all work together, Doug’s suggestion is to cleanse Liberal of any thought that disagrees with the current administration.

The suggestion is nothing short of a gestapo tactic.

We should seek multiple voices to serve on our boards, but that isn’t what Doug wants.

Doug wants boards that simply cheer rather than think.

And why wouldn’t he? A review of the 1-cent sales tax proceeds in Housing for 2016 show that $580,263 was collected and $281,505 went to operational expenses. That’s almost 49 percent of the tax collected went to operate the department. We wouldn’t want a board to question that, would we?

Beautification was even worse.

Of the $193,421 collected, $164,790 went to operational costs. That’s 85 percent of the money to operate the department.

Should boards be looking at the numbers or questioning expenditures? Doug would say absolutely not. To Doug, asking questions is making trouble.

Why don’t we admit the reality that the boards serve no real purpose and simply disband them all? The reason — public perception. As long as the public believes the boards exist for their best interest, the appearance will suffice. But only appoint ditto heads. Critical thinkers will be plucked.

Criticism is not a bad thing. Good ideas can withstand criticism, and the best ideas are able to incorporate criticism to become even stronger.

If we didn’t question, if we didn’t challenge, how would we know if we were doing our best?

Someone seen as negative to one is a champion to someone else. Do the names Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump come to mind?

We don’t supplant opposition in a free society. We don’t seek to silence voices that have a different view, and Doug’s suggestion that the commission remove those from boards simply because they perceive them as negative is wrong, it is dangerous, and it just might be that type of thinking that has led the public to seek a new direction in leadership.

I serve on the Seward County Historical Society Board, and I love our history, but I have also been critical as well. I believe it is my job to provide a view to the Society to best serve its future.

That criticism has not been met with resistance or to push me off the board. Rather, that criticism has been met with energy and enthusiasm, and many volunteers have helped upgrade the Land of Oz. The staff embraced the ideas of change.

I’m not the only one. Several board members provide suggestions that contradict with the notion of “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”

The results have been positive, but it starts with critical thinking, self-evaluation and a challenge to be better.

We should be seeking voices that challenge our boards, not silencing them. It is not a “problem” as Doug suggests, but rather it is an opportunity to listen, to encourage and to enhance our city.

Perhaps if we would start listening to voices outside of government, the job of government could be accomplished with more effectiveness.

But as long as we continue to seek retribution against those who may be critical of current policies by dismissing them from public boards, we will continue down a narrow-minded, limited viewpoint.

I would challenge the Commission to reject the idea of monolithic thought and embrace open dialogue on all boards.

Only with the free flow of ideas can we truly advance the cause of the people. When we no longer allow dissenting viewpoints on boards, we have given up on the art of compromise, the cornerstone of democracy.

Doug, too, has a right to share his thoughts. I hope we see the danger in his suggestion.

 

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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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