Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias "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."

This bit of correspondence, sent to us by a reader, appeared in this column last summer when the city was in turmoil with issues involving the new fire hall. At the time, citizens were upset with their inability to hold a referendum on the building because the project had advanced from being legislative to being adminstrative in nature.

We reacted by more or less begging Vermillion citizens to become more involved in city government.

We noted that Vermillion had gotten out of the habit of electing its public officials to government office.

A year ago, 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 � a happening that's out of character for this community.

We noted last summer that some members of the council got there by going through the rigors of a public election, the same sort of process that many people 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 city council following the resignation of an incumbent alderman before the end of his or her term, and likewise never have been challenged by an election.

We mentioned last summer that Vermillion citizens generally seem happy to just let the city council coast along. Until things go wrong. We don't care, remember? We've demonstrated that year after year. And we may be a bit gullible. Perhaps we are too trusting.

Every spring, the terms of one alderman in all four of the city's wards comes to an end, giving citizens a chance to become involved in the operations of local government by either running for office or at least showing up at the polls on election day.

Last year, the terms of several aldermen and Mayor William Radigan came to an end, giving the public the chance to inject change in city government. But very little changed.

Only one alderman was elected last year. Jack Powell defeated incumbent Richard Burbach. Aldermen Barbara Yelverton, Gary Wright, Roger Kozak, Kevin Annis, and Mayor Radigan all retained their leadership positions in city government last April simply by filing petitions. No one opposed them.

Imagine our delight when last month it was determined that we would be having a city election in two of Vermillion's four wards.

Ideally, we would have preferred to see races in all four wards, but we weren't about to look a gift horse in the mouth. City elections, in Vermillion at least, are to be treasured, because they are so rare.

We figured that this year would be different. Vermillion's huddled masses, those citizens who had such strong feelings about not having the option of referring the fire station or Chestnut Street to a public vote, surely would do their public duty.

They certainly would set aside 10 minutes in the 12- hour period that polls were open April 10 to vote in the combined city/state election. Wouldn't they?

Vermillion citizens demonstrated that, in terms of civic involvement, they are mostly all talk with very little action. Public apathy is reigning supreme. In the central ward, only 237 people voted. Only 400 people cast ballots in the southeast ward.

We've gone through some difficult times recently. We've lost Mayor Radigan, and Kozak was appointed as the city government's new leader Monday. Our city council is in a state of flux. Leo Powell and Frank Slagle will soon be stepping down, to be replaced by Drake Olson and Dennis Zimmerman. A new alderman will be appointed to replace Kozak.

Citizen involvement is crucial. That's why our recent state of apathy is hard to fathom.

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