I was proudly wearing my “I voted” sticker Tuesday at lunch when a friend made an interesting comment. He and his wife, he said, had decided not to vote this time. They didn’t have a City Council opening, and they didn’t think they knew enough about the nine Columbia School Board candidates to make an informed choice.
You might call that attitude intelligent ignorance. I almost applauded it. I’ve long thought that well-intentioned activists make a mistake by urging people to vote without also urging that they educate themselves first. But on second thought, I realized that for intelligent people ignorance is no excuse. Not this time.
I’ve just reviewed the Missourian’s coverage of the School Board and City Council campaigns. (Online, that’s easy enough to do.) I read those stories at the time, of course, as you probably did. The excellent candidate profiles alone provided enough insight to help me decide whom to support. As it turned out, one of my School Board choices won and the other didn’t. I think we 10 percent did well, though.
I don’t live in either the Second or the Sixth Ward, but the Missourian’s reporting made clear who the candidates were and what they stood for. In the Second Ward, two newcomers shared most positions and offered little change from the retiring Chris Janku. In the Sixth, Barbara Hoppe earned her re-election over a developer-supported opponent.
Anybody who has been paying attention can have no doubt about the importance of these elections. The public servants we place on the School Board and City Council touch our daily lives, and shape our future, in ways more direct that many of the office holders who get more attention and attract more votes.
Just look at two decisions within the past week by the City Council.
By unanimous vote, the council created an official public registry that will enable couples – especially the same-sex couples we won’t allow to marry – to enjoy at least some of the privileges that come with marriage. That’s the kind of gesture, mainly symbolic but with some practical significance, that gives Columbians reason for pride.
At the same meeting, council members decided not to put us on closed circuit television, after all. That decision surprised city staffers and downtown merchants, who probably had inferred from the previous lack of debate that cameras on corners were a concern of only a handful of civil libertarians and other privacy nuts.
Not so. CCTV, as I learned to call it last summer in London, where there really are cameras on nearly every corner, is one of those superficially appealing trends that loses luster once you begin thinking about the potential for abuse and the absence of evidence that video actually deters crime. If it did, banks and convenience stores wouldn’t be such frequent targets of hold-ups.
Only Mayor Darwin Hindman, who usually knows better, clung to the bad idea.
A few years ago, with a different council composition, both of those votes might have gone the other way. So the decisions made by those who vote on behalf of their neighbors are critically important to us all.
As to the School Board, where Michelle Pruitt and Christine King take the seats if not the roles of the board’s president and vice president, all you have to do in order to understand how much those choices count is realize that every one of the nine candidates stressed the need to restore public confidence in the school system.
The nonvoting majority this week put our community’s future in the hands of the 10 percent. I’m sure that most of us, at least, were happy to carry the load. Just remember: If you didn’t vote, you’ve forfeited your right to complain about the choices we’ve made for you.
UPDATE: Some of you may be interested in how my investment in newspapers is faring. Very well, thank you. Modesty dictates that I not claim full credit, but as of Thursday all three stocks have gone up since I took the plunge. The Times has even inched above the line that denotes a “penny stock.” Now I have to resist the lure of profit-taking.
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.