Between the Lines

Between the Lines by David Lias It certainly lacks any scientific method.

In fact, the only thing that can be said for certain about our fire hall/ambulance facility poll is that it was done in the simplest, most familiar way possible.

The method that was followed was as close to holding an election as we could muster � an election that back in June was promised to city residents and members of the city council by Mayor William Radigan, and then taken away earlier this month when the mayor and City Attorney Martin Weeks revealed that citizens didn't have the right to refer any decision made by the council on the fire hall to a public vote.

Last week, we noted that on Aug. 16, the Vermillion City Council reaffirmed a decision it made at its Aug. 7 meeting and decided to award bids for the construction of the new $1.2 million fire hall/ambulance facility.

We noted that citizens can't refer this decision to a public vote because it is an administrative, not a legislative, action and we asked: If you were given the opportunity to vote, what would you decide:

* Yes, the $1.2 million structure should be built.

* No, the city council should explore less expensive building options.

Here are the results of our attempt to let the public be heard on this issue. Only 16.9 percent of the participants in our election were in favor of the new $1.2 million station. An overwhelming majority of voters, 83.1 percent, voted no, and with that vote also stated that the city council should have explored less expensive building options.

Some interesting correspondence also accompanied some of the ballots we received.

* "No! and No! The city council should explore less expensive building options! We also need a new mayor and city attorney!!"

* "Mr. Slagle and Mr. Radigan took swipes at you for 'bad' reporting. Both accusations are wrong. Without you the public would not be aware of the shenanigans at city hall."

* "The city has made several bad judgements in the past five years. This probably fits right in with their mode of thinking. Without the university we are a smaller size town and should think that way."

* "Since we get to elect our leaders by definition we deserve what we get. Hopefully, in future elections � local, state and federal � voters will pay more attention to the candidates, their campaigns and what they are likely to do once in office. Alas, experience in this state would seem to indicate otherwise as we consistently re-elect public officials and just as consistently keep complaining about the same old problems."

It is perhaps this last observation that should make us all sit up and take notice. That last writer, who sent us his message via e-mail, perhaps offered his criticism of elected public officials without truly knowing the situation in Vermillion.

You see, Vermillion has gotten out of the habit of electing its public officials to government office.

Last spring, voters in one of the city's wards actually had a chance to go to the polls, because a candidate actually stepped forward to challenge an incumbent. It's a happening that's out of character for this community.

In fact, can you think of the last time that it has happened?

Some members of the council got there by going through the rigors of a public election, the same sort of process that many people have so strongly indicated they wanted when the new fire hall/ambulance facility issue arose.

But sadly, many of the city council members have remained incumbents because: a) they were elected once and have never been challenged in a public election since; or b) they were appointed to office by the mayor following the resignation of an incumbent alderman before the end of his or her term, and likewise never have been challenged by an election.

Vermillion citizens generally seem happy to just let the city council coast along. Until things go wrong.

It's no mystery that a building that costs over $1 million will be built with taxpayers' funds in this city, without the governing body that set the whole process in motion even seeking a lick of public input.

It's no mystery that we've lagged behind small towns in terms of cable television and telecommunications.

We don't care, remember? We've demonstrated that year after year. And we may be a bit gullible. Perhaps we are too trusting.

In the city's recent history, the terms of aldermen and the mayor have come to an end, giving the public the chance to inject change in city government. But very little has changed.

Only one alderman was elected last spring. Jack Powell defeated incumbent Richard Burbach.

Aldermen Barbara Yelverton, Gary Wright, the mayor, Roger Kozak and Kevin Annis all retained their leadership positions in city government simply by filing petitions. No one opposed them.

The actions of the city council this past month have given the public a unique opportunity to see for themselves those who know how to lead, and those who seem to have forgotten that they are representing citizens of Vermillion.

Just to review our stand so far, we long ago identified Alderman Slagle's inability to be a truly productive member of the council, and called on him to resign. We have also determined that a severe shortage of leadership skills on Radigan's part means it's time for the city to be served by a new mayor.

The citizens of Vermillion have the intelligence to make these kinds of decisions for themselves. But until the population decides to truly get involved, they'll never have the opportunity.

Without that involvement, there likely will be other instances of city government betraying the public's trust.

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