Schooling the city council

Three days after the disheartening appearance of yet more chasms inflicting the often-fractured Marion City Council, we were pleased to witness first-hand Thursday evening an outstanding example of civic leadership by Mayor Mary Olson.

Yes, the mayor can at times seem a bit tedious — even schoolmarmish, some might say. But her painstaking, hour-long public review of seemingly every detail of a highly complicated legal document necessary to secure a new private housing complex had a point.

All the private reassurances in the world hadn’t convinced her of the safety of hitching the city’s future to a high-flying financial scheme designed by lawyers for lawyers. She wanted to get on the record, in an open public meeting, specific assurances from the city’s expert bond counsel that the city was in no way imperiled.

A fellow councilman expressed concern that the mayor exhibited lack of trust. A former councilman expressed disgust that she could have asked her questions earlier, in private. But the mayor wasn’t about to be charmed or bullied into putting the city at risk without specific, on-the-record answers that could, in the future, provide a defense if it turned out someone had been trying to slip something past her.

More important, she showed a willingness to listen. To the average person not schooled in high finance and legal loopholes — and even to a few of those who are — the scheme sounded, to put it mildly, sketchy. But rather than categorically rejecting it on those grounds, or categorically accepting it merely because some other person liked it, she remained willing to work with others — however long it took — until every last one of her questions could be resolved.

Such spirit of cooperation and willingness to compromise is what has been sadly missing in recent years from many of our elected officials from Congress on down. To be sure, the time and effort might not have been necessary if a greater sense of trust existed. However, this is, after all, the same council, albeit with a few new members, that tried to have the mayor prosecuted for asking well-intentioned questions about whether the city was at risk when a business, which ultimately did fail, was rumored to be near bankruptcy.

— ERIC MEYER

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