Based on opinion polls and newspaper headlines, a growing number of American voters believe that politics is a dirty, dysfunctional and disreputable business. Only four percent of the public says our political system works well.
Yet after my 16 years as a former city council member (and four years before that on the board of education), I can say without reservation: it’s not that way in Sylvania.
Note that none of our city council members are opposed for re-election next month. Same with the township fiscal officer. Our municipal court judge and one township trustee have opponents, but two school board members together have just one challenger. It seems we are generally satisfied with the government we receive in the city and township.
I asked two veteran elected officials to shed some light on why the attitude of our electorate in local elections seems to run counter to national trends. One is John Crandall, a township trustee for ten years and a former member of the board of education. (He’s in the middle of a four-year term and not on the ballot in November.)
John points out that our community is actually made up of two political subdivisions, the city and the township. Together we comprise more than 50,000 residents—the biggest community in northwest Ohio outside of Toledo. He says he gets “maybe one call a month” from residents with a question or complaint.
“We benefit from a lot of cooperation and coordination. The two road departments work really well together, the police coordinate some enforcement activities, we share the fire department,” he notes. “In addition, we have our joint recreation district, the community improvement corporation, and joint economic development agreements.”
Agreeing with John is our longest-serving city council member, 20-year veteran Doug Haynam. “We now have full peace between the city and township … we are clearly partners on a lot of things, and it wasn’t always that way. It’s a great accomplishment,” he says.
In fact, Doug and I were elected to city council the same year, defeating two incumbents in a period marked by local political conflict of various kinds. At the time, he was seen by some as tough, opinionated, and aggressive…very much like the smash-mouth football center and baseball catcher that he was, growing up in blue-collar and ethnic Youngstown.
Back then, I actually bought a book, “How to Deal with Difficult People,” to help me figure out how to work with my new colleague. Turned out, I didn’t need it. Our styles complemented each other, and I got more done in 16 years working with Doug than I did with any other colleague in my four terms.
“My dad was a Marine, and mom supported Eugene McCarthy because he opposed the Vietnam War. Could there have been tension in our house growing up that year? But that’s not how we approached it. We just had a healthy exchange of ideas,” he told me recently.
Haynam got a degree in economics at Miami University and then a law degree from Ohio State. “My career has been in litigation, and you don’t do that without having a degree of self-confidence,” he said. “I’m willing to tell people that they’re wrong all the time. But I don’t take anything personally. Some people are offended by what I say, but if you have a bad idea … you have a bad idea. We can disagree, but I’m not offended.”
He added, “My simple philosophy as a council member is to stay focused on a community that is welcoming and safe … a good place to live. This means good infrastructure; roads, sewers, bridge and getting a water agreement worked out. Call the police, and they come right away and are respectful. I try to remember that this job isn’t about me, it’s about doing a good job for my neighbors.”
Doug offered an observation, too, on the gap in support between national and local politics: “The purpose of government is to advance the well-being of the people they are elected to serve. It seems like they have forgotten that on the national scene.”
With that in mind, remember that we all have an opportunity to go to the polls next week to vote for strictly local candidates. Typically, the voter turnout is projected to be the lowest in our four-year election cycle–a longtime trend. But that’s all the more reason to cast your ballots …because at the local level, elections do matter.
Longtime Sylvania resident Mark Luetke has served on city council, the board of education, and numerous foundation and community boards.