-Oct. 9, 2017-
With City elections coming up soon, I wanted to throw out my $.02 on what I’ve seen and learned as a new Mayor, and also my opinion on HOW a City should be managed. I’m hoping by sharing my experiences, citizens will want to take a more active approach in who they vote for. I understand this post may rub some people the wrong way, but I write it with a sincere heart and while keeping transparency in mind.
When I campaigned for Mayor, I walked the streets of Hansen and knocked doors and told everyone I met that I would ALWAYS be honest and open no matter what (even if I’m wrong!), and that I would listen to your opinion and respect it. Literally, that’s what I told people as I went door-to-door. In turn, people opened up to me and were even inviting me into their homes! I was told LOTS of stories and asked LOTS of questions that I didn’t have answers to. Things like: they wanted someone to investigate what’s going on with the City budget, how much money does the City have, how are employee hours accounted for, vacation/sick days, why were City employees getting personal untaxed checks cut out to them instead of receivng health insurance, why wasn’t the City code being enforced, why aren’t things getting cleaned up, how much do city employees get paid, why do some Council members not respond to citizen’s emails, etc. I just sat and listened and agreed with everyone while trying to take it all in. Next thing I know, I was voted in as Mayor. I even remember having an overwhelming feeling of, “Holy crap. These people picked me to dig deep into things and get them answers, and I promised them I would do it. This isn’t going to be easy…”
Being an elected official means that I answer to you, the citizens, and I am under your public scrutiny. The $3000/yr ($250/mth) I get paid as Mayor is paid out of YOUR pockets. So for me, this means that all City information is made available to you, the citizens, and that I MUST tell you the truth. I work FOR YOU, not you work for me. My hours spent as Mayor, my emails, my conversations, our City employees pay/hours, our City money and what it is spent on… ALL of it should be made public to the citizens, in my opinion. This is what keeps everyone accountable and why we need checks and balances, right? Unfortuantely, when I became Mayor I found out very quickly that checks and balances simply didn’t exist here in Hansen. We even get told so by our accountant at the end of every year when he does his public report on the budget!
My first year as Mayor, I started to question City employees and Council members about things that I deemed “a little off”. I asked MANY questions. I usually got abrupt pushback and was told not to ruffle feathers and to go with the flow and to not worry about these things. Or I would hear (and still DO hear), “This is the way it’s been done for 15-20 years! Why are you trying to change things, Israel?” Or, “Are you saying I’m not trustworthy?” These were all open and honest discussions that I would have with people. In fact, when I uncovered a scenario earlier this year, I told each Council member straight to their eyes, “Why has this stuff been going on for years?!? Why aren’t we looking at each and every check the City makes? Why hasn’t the Council stepped up and found these things over the years? It’s all of our jobs, MINE TOO, to investigate and correct our errors. This stuff should have been stopped years ago! It’s time to STEP UP and get involved.” And believe me I did say that. Word for word. It was at a public budget meeting earlier this year. To go a little further regarding the pushback, later on that day I was told, “Well, maybe we don’t need to tell the public what happened and we can just handle it ourselves.” I was dumbfounded.
Back to the point… I was simply asking a lot of questions and the amount of pushback I would receive for trying to do what was right didn’t add up. Since I was a new and somewhat young Mayor (maybe even a little timid when I started), I didn’t press people harder like I should have and I’m sorry to all of you! I really am! I feel like I let you down. The good news is that this year I have been pressing much harder and I can honestly say that I have gotten to the bottom of quite a few things. There are still some ongoing situations that don’t look good but I am working on those. There is much more I could comment on but this post is already getting long enough.
So how does this all tie into the elections that are coming up? ASK QUESTIONS. I can’t stress this enough. In my humble opinion, if you see someone that is running for public office, you should pull them aside for 5-10 min and ask them specific questions and listen for specific answers. Use questions like, “What would you say are YOUR top 3 accomplishments as Councilwoman/Councilman? How much time are you willing to devote each day as a Council member? Will you check your City email and respond to your citizens? Are you familiar with spreadhseets and budgets? Do you have any computer experience? Are you familiar with Word docs and PDFs and attachments? Are you on Facebook? Will you go to meetings that are off-site and outside of Hansen (there are a LOT of meetings; believe me!)? Will you network with other officials and build rapport? As a new Council member, what do you want to work with the Mayor on? What would you like to change about the City?” These need to be thoughful questions. And please don’t let the candidates respond with things like, “Well, my family and I have lived here in Hansen for 25 years and I have been a strong community member every year.” Politely say, “I think that’s wonderful, but that doesn’t answer my question about what your accomplishments are/were, what your vision for the City is, do you want grants, what your qualifications are, etc.” Remember, candidates are under your public scrutiny and as a City, we want to vote in the most QUALIFIED person.
Maybe we can invite all of the candidates to a Q&A session at the Hansen Community Center? I’d be willing to lead the Q&A session. Is this something people are interested in? I only want to do something like this if the citizens want it. Just let me know and I think we can make something like this happen.
Sorry for the extremely long post. I felt it was my duty as Mayor to type all of that out. There has been a lot on my mind for quite some time. And to reiterate, all of this is just my $.02 and that’s all it’s worth.
If you have questions, openly ask.
Mayor Israel Boekweg