"He suffered from a hatred of political gatherings and a distrust of strong government. He was prickly and easily irritated and a powerful, convinced defender of liberty, and of the usages of local government necessary to secure it. He was utterly unimpressed by pretty words or eloquence of any kind and cared little whether or not he was liked."
These words are quoted from "The Genius Of The People," by Charles L. Mee Jr., a book that provides an enlightening account about the birth of our national government and the men who wrote our Constitution. These words were used to describe one of those men, George Mason.
Those who speak and write so maliciously about Councilman Bob Olson would do well to read this book. It was Mason's tenacity, persistence and unyielding devotion to the principles of democracy that shaped the Constitution; he was an unapologetic champion of the people! Had it not been for Mason's unswerving bull-doggedness it is highly possible that the United States would have resembled a monarchy and people's rights would always be subject to the monarch's whim. As Mason so clearly understood, it was not his first obligation to be a "team player," but to speak and act forthrightly about the values he so passionately believed would preserve liberty and freedom for Americans down through the ages. In fact Mason, the author of the state of Virginia's Bill of Rights was so concerned that the Constitution, when written, did not contain enough guarantees of liberty and freedom, did not contain a "Bill of Rights," that he was one of the authors who refused to sign it. The strength of his powerful ideas was not lost -- in 1791 a Bill of Rights was passed that still forms the cornerstone of Americans' freedoms.
Now Bob Olson may not be a George Mason but I have never known him to embrace mediocrity in order to genuflect to the concept of "team players." Nor have I known him to have "ploys" as a reason for his actions. For better or worse, he lets it all hang out, what you see is what you get. He isn't much to bow and scrape to those who want to be the real powers and want the elected people to be puppets whose strings are easily pulled. He's been known to get up at midnight to help a citizen with an untenable situation. He thinks city regulations should apply equally, not just be used to bludgeon the powerless. He thinks communication with the citizens should precede such actions as cutting down trees on the boulevard. He does not subscribe to the theory, "Spend today and worry tomorrow." He has this strange idea that he owes fiscal responsibility to the taxpayers and that there must be integrity in the implementation of an adopted budget. He appears to harbor the peculiar notion that he was elected to represent the people first -- not to be a "team player." Amazing! What a truly wicked man! A veritable enemy of the people! Or so those who are threatened by the process of thought seem to believe.
I am puzzled as to why the council cannot set aside some time to discuss such issues as overspending the budget, shrinking reserves, TIF, bonding, 5-year projections, the Water and Light projects and building our city from within as well as growth and development concerns. Clearly these are policy issues, significant issues that affect our livelihood and the social fabric of the community. Proposed policy should be freely debated by the members of the governing board their reasoning, expectations, goals and method of evaluation held up for public scrutiny every step of the way. I do not see that debate.
In the final analysis I refer again to Mee's "The Genius Of The People." In summing up what was finally settled on, after the great debate about the content of the Constitution he says, "It embraced the two aspirations (liberty and order) under a more general and grander principle that rose naturally from the political culture, they shared -- that each individual is safest when power is most widely dispersed, when there are no unchecked concentrations of power, when, in fact, power and responsibility came closest to residing equally in the hands of all citizens."
"Go along to get along" was not the prevailing wisdom among the authors of the Constitution, they had vigorous and heated discussions of ideas and guiding principles. Have ideas and principles become strangers at the tables of the councils and county boards? Has "go along to get along" become known as "team playing?" Is so much time spent in squashing dissent and attacking challengers that honest debate about policy issues are ignored by our elected people? Has the unchecked concentration of power been permitted to all into the hands of highly paid administrators, through default by the governing body?
Do we fail to value those powerful, convinced, tenacious defenders of the people who all too rarely sit on our elected councils and boards? Or do we prefer not to be roused from complacent comfort, to simply, also, "go along to get along?"
(Koep is a Brainerd resident who has served on the Crow Wing County Board and the Brainerd City Council.)
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